Friday, March 2, 2012

A trip to Moldova to get a visa

Scenes from Chisinau
On the bus.

Some of my traveling companions.
Remains of a synagogue from before the war.
Large Orthodox Christian church in the center of the city.

Snowy park in the center.
the Minnesota Twins in Moldova!
A quiet morning. Alone in the house today, a rare treat for me. I will spend the day doing a little laundry, going for a walk if it seems at all feasible given the cold and icy conditions of the roads, cooking dinner for the family, studying some Russian, and just hanging out, savoring the silence. Though I have become accustomed to living with the family—the TV on downstairs, Serdar’s music blasting out of his room, Lenura and the kids yelling back and forth—and have even come to miss it when it gets too quiet on these days of having the house to myself--I do cherish my occasional aloneness. It’s such a big change for me, this living in a family. For most of my adult life I have either lived alone or with only one other person. But I have grown to like the feeling of being part of a family. I like that both Serdar and Safie feel they can come into my room anytime and just hang out with me (I can lock the door if I want to be alone), that Lenura likes to come in and see what I’m doing and chat about different things, that Neshet and I occasionally remain sitting at the table after dinner, talking (or trying to) about Crimean Tatar life, world events, life in Uzbekistan. The hardest times I find living here are the result of my lack of understanding of the language. The other night Safie was rattling on about something to do with school and Serdar and Lenura were laughing so hard, and I didn’t have a clue what it was about. Times like that I can feel so isolated and alone, despite knowing how much they love me. I wonder if I will ever get to the level of fluency where I can understand conversations in which people are talking rapidly and (probably) using a lot of slang.

These last three weeks have been occupied by the visa registration headache. Ukraine instituted new visa laws last September, and it has created huge hassles for Peace Corps Volunteers like me who’s visas are expiring soon—basically all of the Volunteers that came in October and those Volunteers who are extending our service. The first step in the process was a trip to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova! We all had to get what is called a D visa before we could even start the registration process, and you can’t get that visa in Ukraine, you have to go out of the country to a Ukrainian consulate. Which, of course, makes little sense, but that is the law. So the Peace Corps organized bus trips for all of us to Moldova. Which could have been fun, I guess, but the trip turned into a 16-hour overnight on the bus, one night at a hotel in Chernisau, and then another 14-hour overnight on the return bus. Combined with the overnight train to and from Kyiv. Grueling is the word that comes to mind. Especially the return trip where I ended up at the back of the bus where the more partying types of the young Volunteers congregated. Finally, about 2am, I said, “are you guys ever going to sleep??” About 3, they eventually did.

Actually, I enjoyed myself in Chisinau. We had a lot of free time, waiting for the consulate to prepare our visas, and the Peace Corps gave us a generous spending allowance. I had fun walking around, checking out the city, buying presents, having a great dinner at a traditional Moldovan restaurant, perusing bookstores. The day we got back to Kyiv was not the best—exhaustion, a frustrating meeting about the steps of registration, a trip to the dentist to have a tooth pulled, and finally crashing at the hostel, waiting for Cheryl to come the next day. She had tickets to the Georgian National Ballet which was performing that night, so we had made plans to spend the weekend in Kyiv. It continued to be very cold which limited our sightseeing, but we still had a good time. Made it to the huge outdoor market there which I had never been to. Cheryl had the address of a booth that sold maps, and when we did finally locate it, what a treat it was—tons of maps from all over the world. I bought a geographical map of Central Asia that shows all the places Neshet talks about in Uzbekistan. Will definitely have to go back there my next time in Kyiv.

I arrived back in Simferopol on a Monday morning, and it feels like I have been dealing with the registration hassle ever since. After several frustrating trips to various offices with both Neshet and Nadjie, as my landlord and the site where I volunteer also had to register, I was finally told by one official that I needed to leave Ukraine and come back with a 90-day tourist visa, as there was no way that I would be able to complete all the documents before my current 45-day visa expired. Most of the Volunteers who are attempting to register are running into the same problem, and the Peace Corps in Kyiv along with the US Ambassador is pushing the Ukraine government to allow a simpler registration process for the Volunteers. And that is where it is now—in the hands of the Peace Corps office in Kyiv. I have one month to be registered, so we’ll see what happens.

More on that visa front next post—my visa and also Serdar’s attempts to once again to get a visa to the US. Love to all from cold Crimea.

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