February 2010: The air is biting cold as we walk up the icy path to Lyceum “Nicholae Iorga”. My old friend Sandu, now 19, is sitting with a handful of teenage boys who are making jokes and hitting each other in the back of the head, Three Stooges style. They are all wearing bomber jackets and skull caps. This is Moldova’s uniform. Some have bags and some have athletic pants on and I comment on how much each of them has grown in the past two years. We call the 24-hour security guy (I use this term loosely) who sends his 5-year old down to the school to give Sandu the key so that we can get into the school.
There are no lights on in the school. Nor is there heat. It might actually be warmer outside but the walls of the school protect us from the wind although I can’t say the same for the windows which were supposed to have been replaced sometime 3 years ago. We walk down the dark hallway which has gone unchanged in my two-year absence. It is brutally cold in the hallway full of drafty windows and I’m glad that we’re moving because otherwise my hands and toes would be as numb as my face. And that’s obnoxious.
My “office” where I stored the gis looks virtually untouched with the exception of some new windows that were donated by some Baptists from England. These windows were sitting collecting dust and will probably continue to do so for the duration. An attendance list with my handwriting is in the same place by the window where I left it, and all of the donated gis appear to still be there. Sandu makes one of the bigger kids let me use his gi since I didn’t bring mine.
We go into the gym which has some new paint on the floors but otherwise looks just the same. The gym is lit by one jury-rigged street light and the walls sparkle with condensation. It’s like a giant refrigerator in there. We get the mats out and they look like they’re still in great shape. No new rips and with the exception of some extra dirt and a piece of gum on one of them, they look like I just left them yesterday. I can still see my breath as I get out of my nice warm clothes and I shiver as I put on the cold gi over my long underwear.
It reminds me of when I first introduced the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program 4 winters ago although then it was a bit warmer. Only by a bit though.