Friday, December 31, 2010

McLauchlan's Moldovan Musings "Top 10"

Inspired by the Late Show with David Letterman's "Top 10 Lists," I thought I would draft a "Top 10" list of my own.

The Top 10 Reasons this Fulbright to Moldova was the highlight of my academic career:

1) Serving as an international elections observer during the Constitutional Referendum in September and the Parliamentary Elections in November

2) Speaking at ULIM's Opening Ceremony, before the Rector of ULIM, the President of the Republic of Moldova, the distinguished faculty, and incoming students

3) Taking my students on a field trip to the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova and meeting with its President

4) Sending Peggy to the International School, for her first real academic experience (Kindergarten!); having her study a foreign language at school, learning about other cultures and traditions, not just from books, but in real life! (I was also pleased that, for the first time, Peggy (a Florida native) lived in a place with seasons. We were in Moldova for summer, fall, and winter. She even was able to go sledding for the first (only) time in her life!)

5) Watching the 30-second TV ad that a group of women students in my Campaigns and Elections in the United States course created for "The Feminist Initiative Party"

6) Teaching at ULIM and working with such bright and interesting students and colleagues. So many memorable exchanges! I was especially proud of my students' participation in the simulations (the mock U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Supreme Court Confirmation Hearing and the mock U.S. Supreme Court Oral Argument). I feel truly blessed to have been assigned to ULIM. And kudos to the Office of International Cooperation and its Vice Rector and staff!

7) Working with colleagues (many of whom were Fulbright alumni) at the American Studies Center at Moldova State University, especially having the opportunity to participate in the conference on "Strengthening Democracy through Civic Engagement"

8) Living in the City Center, in the perfect apartment, overlooking the courtyard of ULIM, with easy access to to all of the restaurants and festivals and parks and playgrounds in the vibrant Chisinau downtown

9) Traveling around Moldova delivering guest lectures, especially the opportunities that I had to visit the U.S. Embassy's "American Corners"

10) Learning more about the history, politics, and culture of Moldova. Tasting Moldovan cuisine. Visiting Moldovan landmarks: the monasteries, vineyards, courthouses, museums, theaters.... Making Moldovan friends!

And here's a link to David Letterman's Top 10:

KIV: Take 3

At 2:45 AM, the taxi arrived, and we made our third trip to the Chisinau airport (KIV). For the third time, we loaded all of our luggage into the taxi. And waved Good Bye/La Revedere to our favorite Chisinau landmarks. Wondering if this time, all would go smoothly with our flights home.

We arrived, checked in, went through passport control, security, the waiting area, got on the shuttle bus out to the tarmac. Wow. Could it be that we were actually getting on the plane to head home to Florida? We had been frustrated that things didn't go as planned. That we had shut down our apartment and turned over the keys, only to find that we needed a place to stay. That my parents were in Florida for a visit, but we were not. That Ramsay's parents were expecting us for a holiday visit that would also be delayed.

But here we were, actually on the shuttle to the plane. Which was actually on the tarmac, waiting for us to board. And it was sad.

We had a long day, a very long day, of travel ahead of us. And unlike to flight TO Europe, much of which was overnight, this trip home would take place entirely during waking hours. We had quite a large bag of activities and toys and treats. As it turned out, the flight home did not have the nifty video players at each seat. But we didn't need videos, when we had coloring books and paper dolls. Peggy was happy and entertained the entire trip, which included a very long layover in Frankfurt. She is a great travel companion, and I am so happy she came along with me for this grand adventure.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


As if getting to see Tangled (in Russian) again -- and sledding for the first time! -- were not enough, the fun on our bonus day in Chisinau continued when another friend from school came over to join the girls for a sleepover.

Using a projector, the living room was transformed into a movie theater. (Barbie's Christmas Carol!) And the girls enjoyed hot cocoa and other treats. Yum!

We needed to get up at 2:30 AM for our taxi to the airport. And Peggy's friends got up in the middle of the night to say Good Bye.

Was it really Good-Bye this time?? We would only know for sure when we got to the AirMoldova check-in desk . . .

Рапунцель / Tangled (2010) Russian trailer


We had been wanting to go back to Mall-Dova to see Tangled in Russian again, one more time before we left. This was our big plan for Christmas day, but, the timing just didn't work out.

But, here we were, with a bonus day in Chisinau! So, off we went to Moldova with our friends to see Tangled! Even better, they speak Russian so we were able to get some assistance with translation

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sledding in Chisinau!

After we returned to our friends' home, the stress of the airport saga melted away and we very much enjoyed our visit.

Monday evening, it started to snow, and it snowed through the night. Several inches. Everything looked so beautiful and peaceful, covered in a blanket of white snow. (Here is a photo of the back garden)

There was only one thing to do: Go SLEDDING!

Peggy had *never* been sledding in her life. I can't remember the last time I went sledding, but it could have been 30 years ago. I had been hoping that Peggy would have a chance to go sledding while we were in Moldova, but it just never worked out.

Here we were, with this extra bonus day in Chisinau, and we were able to go sledding with our friends!

Turns out that the park behind the American Resource Center has some great hills for just this purpose

Wow! Did we have fun! What a treat!

Peggy rolled over her first 2 times and wanted to give up. Then our Swedish friends gave her some tips, and on the third time, wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

KIV: Take Two

The next morning, we were up again, well before the proverbial crack of dawn. Again we met our driver and loaded all of the suitcases and carry-ons into the car, and again we drove to the airport. Again we had checked our flight status online. And again, we said Good Bye to favorite Chisinau landmarks as we headed out of the City Center.

This time, the flight was on time. However, when we went to check in at the desk, we were told that the papers that we were holding were NOT actually tickets. It was merely a reservation that had not actually been booked. I pleaded with them not to let the plane to Kiev depart without us on it, to no avail.

After more than 6 hours of searching and negotiating on Sunday, all we had gotten was a meaningless slip of paper.

It took another 6+ hours to find a solution on Monday. All kinds of itineraries, stopping at cities throughout Europe and North America were floated as possibilities. Intially we were told we could not get out of KIV before January 4th . . .

So it was another stressful morning, with no breakfast or lunch . . . . as several AirMoldova staffers tried to find us a way home.

We seemed to be caught in a classic "Catch-22." If there were 2 seats on a plane, then it was on an airline that AirMoldova did not have a contract with; if it was an appropriate plane/airline, then there would not be 2 seats available. And so it went on, for several hours.

We finally were re-booked on flights, and then we inquired about a hotel reservation. Despite my pleas, we found ourselves homeless in Chisinau.

I will spare you further details of the drama, only to say we are so grateful that our Swedish friends opened their home and welcomed us to stay with them!

Peggy was a real trooper over the course of these many hours on Sunday and again on Monday. She had fun on my laptop and coloring at the AirMoldova desk. Here she is pictured in a tiara that she picked out at one of the newsstand kiosks in the airport. It was 80 MDL, which is pretty outrageous, but she was being so patient as we worked through these travel plans that I just could not say No. In fact, later that night when I was looking for something in my laptop bag, I found all of these pictures that she had drawn for me while sitting in the AirMoldova office. "I love Mom" with hearts, flowers, butterflys. It made me feel bad that I was so tied up in trying to get our flight and hotel reservations sorted out that I was oblivious to the fun she was having.

We once again packed all of our luggage and carry-ons BACK into the car, and this time, we (and all our luggage) were dropped off at our friends' house. It was like deja vu all over again.

But we were happy knowing that we had actual *tickets* for flights on Wednesday. And I knew Peggy was going to have so much fun on this extended sleep-over playdate.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Departing KIV: Not!

We were scheduled to depart Chisinau (KIV) on Sunday morning, December 26th. We had worked hard to pack up all our things. And we gave away everything left in our pantry and fridge, and many other things that we just could not pack to take back home with us. Our driver picked us up, loaded everything in the car, and we were off to the airport!

As we drove down Stefan cel Mare, Peggy and I were saying "Good Bye, Stefan cel Mare," "Good Bye Art Market," "Good Bye Mall-Dova," "Good Bye. . . ." well, you get the idea.

I had checked our flight status on the KIV airport site, and everything looked to be on time. So I was surprised when we arrived to see a long line of customers at the AirMoldova desk. I had checked the status of my flight before logging off of my laptop:

And expedia had not sent me an email advising me of any issues with my flight.

So I was surprised to learn that my flight would be delayed 7 hours. Which was long enough to mean that we would miss our connection in Frankfurt. And would be unable to get home.

We learned this *after* getting rid of everything in our apartment, packing up all of our things, and turning over the keys to the apartment.

Waiting in line to find an alternative itinerary to get us home took more than 6 hours. By the time we left, we thought we had tickets for the following morning. And AirMoldova put us up in the Codru Hotel (in the City Center).

Our new itinerary was to send us from Chisinau to Kiev to Frankfurt to Dulles to Tampa. More layovers than we had originally planned, but, we would only be delayed by one day.

We called our driver, loaded all of the suitcases back into the car, and set off for the Codru Hotel.

I decided that with all of these additional layovers, we should get an additional suitcase and take less with us on the plane (to schlepp around unknown terminals, racing to make a connection)

The Codru Hotel was located right across from one of the playgrounds we used to visit, so we were planning to get in some playtime, and then head to Stefan cel Mare for lunch (actually, by this time it was closer to 2 pm, and we had not had breakfast or lunch during the 6+ hours we were trying to resolve our ticket situation. . . ) and then to purchase a new suitcase.

We were so pleased that as soon as we walked out of the door of our hotel, we bumped into one of Peggy's teachers and our Swedish friends. We had wanted so much to have had a playdate with them, but we just never found the time. They invited us over for a playdate later that evening.

Our first stop was along Stefan cel Mare, in the Gemini shopping plaza, to look for a suitcase. We found just what we were looking for, and then discussed our lunch options. I really wanted to go to the "yellow chair" cafe on Pushkin Str. for one more bowl of zama and some Moldovan meatballs, but Peggy really wanted a caramel sundae and some indoor playground playtime. So, we went to McDonalds. We were on our way back to the U.S., and we went to McDonalds.... But Santa Claus and his helper did come to visit us at our table. And her Happy Meal "toy" was a juicer that we could use with some Florida oranges upon our return home.

After our errands, we were delighted to have the opportunity to have a playdate with with our Swedish friends. I enjoyed some glogg and my favorite bucuria chocolates by the fire, Peggy had a ball playing. It had been a harrowing day at the airport, but what a pleasant ending.

We were sad to leave our friends, and Chisinau, and the reality was finally setting in. When we got back to the hotel room, and I was setting the alarm (on my cell phone), Peggy said "Don't set the alarm! Don't set the alarm!" And I responded that if I did not set the alarm that we would not be ready for the driver when he came very early the next morning. She protested that she did not want to leave Moldova. Did not want to be ready early in the morning for our driver or to make our plane at the airport. (It had been a tearful Good Bye with our friends.) It had been so busy in the days leading up to our departure -- that the reality had just not sunk in for either of us. Until that evening in the Codru Hotel.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Chisinau

Our plans were to fly out very early on Sunday, December 26th, which meant Peggy and I would be spending Christmas together in Chisinau.

Spent the morning packing! And concerned that we were just not going to be able to get everything stuffed into our 4 suitcases. . . .

I had purchased a nifty scale at the Central Market so that I could weigh each of the bags, to make sure that they didn't weigh over the 23 kg allowance. . .

(When packing for the trip, I did not have such a scale. I would get on our bathroom scale, weigh myself. Then pick up the suitcase and weigh myself. Then subtract. To get a rough idea of how much my suitcases weighed. . . . )

We had wanted to go back to Mall-Dova to see Tangled in Russian again before we left Chisinau, but, the timing just did not work out for us on Christmas day as we had hoped.

It was such a beautiful day -- in the 60s! -- so we decided to spend time at Peggy's favorite playground (near the Flower Market). We had the playground to ourselves, and we were able to enjoy the free concert that was taking place on Stefan cel Mare while we played. We decided to have dinner at Andy's Pizza one last time.

We first went to the location on Banelescu Bodoni. Played at the playground there. But then Peggy asked if we could go to the Andy's Pizza that is in the Opera and Ballet Theater - which has an even bigger playground. So we headed another 2 blocks to that location. Again, we had the playground to ourselves.

It was so *muddy.* At one point I thought we were going to get stuck in the mud. I mean actually stuck in the mud. It was the stickiest, gloppiest mud I have ever experienced. When I expressed my disgust with the gloppy mess that was consuming our boots and threatening to keep us from dinner (or getting back to our apartment), Peggy said, "Mommy, don't be mad at the mud. Mud is just a part of life." True. But I am sure this sticky, gloppy, killer mud was the reason why we had the entire playground(s) to ourselves on such a mild and beautiful day in the middle of the winter.

After savouring our potato balls, pepperoni pizza, and caramel sundae, we headed home on Stefan cel Mare.

Much to my surprise, we saw MICKEY MOUSE?! I had to laugh. All of our presentations about "Christmas in Sunny Florida," each of which concluded with our descriptions of our favorite family Christmas tradition: WaltDisneyWorld. And here we were, on Stefan cel Mare in Chisinau, Moldova on Christmas, with Mickey Mouse. (And "Minnie," too)

We stopped in front of the Parliament Building to enjoy several more acts of the free concert before heading home.

It was sad to think that this would be our last concert on Stefan cel Mare, our last walk home, past the McDonalds and the street vendors. Our last time walking up those 4 flights of stairs to our apartment. It was strange feeling. We had been so busy trying to squeeze in as much as possible into our last few weeks in Moldova, that it hadn't really sunk in that we were leaving. It was a surreal ending to our Christmas in Chisinau.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Criminal Court Observation

Judge Orindas put us in touch with a judge on the criminal court: Judge Ecaterina Palanciuc. She was a dynamic young mother of two who impressed us with her knowledge of criminal law and procedure in Moldova.

The caseload for the judges was quite high in this courthouse as well: about 5,000 civil cases and about 1,000 criminal cases per year. As in the Economic Court, there were stacks of case files on every surface, desk, cabinet that we could see.

At this courthouse there are 18 judges, but only 15 are serving right now. (3 judges are on maternity leave; women can take up to 3 years to be home with their child with 20% salary.)

We very much appreciated the judge taking the time to talk to us about the kinds of cases that are heard in this courthouse (located in the Chisinau City Center) and learning more about criminal procedure, the judicial selection process, and continuing legal education/professional development in Moldova.

We were also able to observe a hearing in a case involving a police officer accused of accepting a 50 MDL bribe.

The prosecution presented the evidence and recommended 4 years of prison, 1,000 MDL fine, and suspension from the position for 2 years. (This seemed to us to be an exceptionally harsh penalty for a 50 MDL bribe, which is the equivalent of $4.) The defense attorney then made a presentation (from a prepared statement). The session that we observed was similar to closing arguments in a criminal trial in the U.S.

The next hearing was scheduled for the following Tuesday, at which time the defendant will have the opportunity to speak and the judge will make a final decision in the case.

At some point I would like to include an inquisitorial trial simulation in my Law and Politics class. This would add a comparative perspective to the course, and allow for students to compare the adversarial criminal trials they observe in Florida. (As a part of the Courtroom Observation Research Paper assignment, students observe criminal and civil trial and appellate proceedings in Florida and in federal courts. It would be good for my students to have a better understanding of how courts work, especially criminal procedure, in other parts of the world. I think it allows for a deeper understanding/appreciation of our adversarial system. Yet I had never had the opportunity to observe such proceedings myself. Just read about them. So this was an excellent learning opportunity for me, one that I will share with my students back at USF.

10 Random

This is a tribute to my dear friend John, who used to post "10 Random" observations in a "Note" on facebook every day. Here are 10 Random Observations about our daily life in Chisinau

1) We used fragranced toilet paper. (Sometimes it would smell like roses or green apples or peaches)

2) We did not have fitted sheets on our mattresses. We had a flat sheets on top and on the bottom. I found this to be annoying at first but actually got used to it rather quickly.

3) Orange cell phone stores were as ubiquitous in Chisinau City Center as CVS pharmacies are in Washington, DC. At least one on every block! Or so it seemed.

4) We did not use a dryer for our clothes. We had a new front-loading washing machine in our apartment, and we hung all of our clothes to dry (on a rack in the living room). Given the size of the washer, I did wash every couple of days. As soon as the clothes on the rack were dry, I would do another load. So we grew used to living with our laundry in the living room. (And I felt so "green"! Between not having a car, not using a dryer, washing and re-using our plastic baggies. . . In general we were much less wasteful. I am sure our carbon footprint must have decreased substantially while we were in Chisinau.)

5) It was fashionable for men to wear shoes with long, pointy toes. And for women to wear high heels. (the trend continued, even in snow and ice)

6) "Smoke" was often in the weather forecast, and sometimes when I brought my pantyhose in from the dryer rack on our balcony they would smell as if they were at a campfire.

7) There were huge selections of juice. Long aisles in grocery stores and convenience stores (alimentaras) with all sorts of delicious juices. All kinds of flavors that are just not available back home. All of which were packaged in cartons (not glass or plastic bottles.) There was one brand of strawberry juice that Peggy was crazy about. (Only one brand.) Despite the large selection at the Number One, you couldn't always count on a particular item being in stock every time you shopped. So, when I saw that juice, I would buy several cartons, even though I had to carry it a few blocks home and up 4 flights of stairs. . . .

8)All movies at the movie theaters are shown in Russian, event though Moldovan (Romanian) is the state language.

9) We loved all of the playgrounds in the City Center. I especially liked the "nautilus" playgrounds, with exercise equipment geared towards adults. In the beginning Peggy was frustrated that "no one spoke English," but she quickly adapted and would say "Hello" in Romanian and Russian and invite other kids to play on the see-saw with her. Families/Moms did not seem to interact with one another as they do back home. And I NEVER saw a child, when it was time to leave, resist in any way. (Other than Peggy.) In fact, I don't recall seeing any fussy children anywhere. I don't even remember seeing babies cry, though they must!

10) Speaking of babies, I saw some super-fancy strollers in the parks, but more often saw parents carrying their babies and toddlers down the street. Which is understandable, as there are so many stairs everywhere. (By the time we left, there were lots of parents giving their kids rides through the parks and down the street on sleds, which looked very cool. If we were going to be there longer, I definitely would have picked one up for Peggy at the Central Market.)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

International Cooperation, continued

International Cooperation, continued

On Monday, I had gotten together at Roberts with several colleagues from ULIM. When we said Good Bye/La Revedere, we made plans to get together later in the week to have dinner.

We met at ULIM on Thursday after COB and walked to a French cafe on 31 August Str. On the way, we stopped to take photos at the grand Christmas tree in front of the Parliament Building. And, for the first time, Peggy and I took a photo with the mangy tiger who hung out around the Arch of Triumph that we passed so many times when en route to the playground. (Often sitting on a bench, with his tiger head off, smoking a cigarette. That naughty tiger!) In any case, he leapt into our photo, and I was happy to pay the 10 MDL to have him join us.

I had been to this French cafe a few times (they have great quiche!), but had never been upstairs. It turns out they have a playground as well as one of those paint-a-piece-of-pottery places upstairs. So Peggy was happily entertaining herself while I had one last visit with friends from ULIM. I truly feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work with such wonderful colleagues. I will miss ULIM!

At this point we were to leave Chisinau in 2 days. Which was still very hard to believe.