Fishing for crap

I’m sure you’re wondering what that title means, and don’t worry, I will explain.  I just wanted to–get ready for the bad pun–”reel” you in first.

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a holiday that is very much celebrated in Moldova.  This year, it was on a Friday, making it a long weekend, and so I went down to another volunteer’s village to spend the weekend with his host family.

The village is about three hours outside the capital, and a stone’s throw from Ukraine.  The house almost borders the river that separates the two countries, and from time to time you can spot border patrol on the other side.

On women’s day, we had a hearty feast, and then spent the night visiting neighbors, stuffing ourselves with more food, and toasting to women.  Time spent with the locals produces some of the most rewarding and interesting memories.

The next day, our host mom decided she wanted to go fishing, and so after a morning walk, we met her on the banks to try our luck at catching some fish.  And this is where the title comes in.

If I’m saying this right, the primary kind of fish in the river there is carp.  What’s funny is the word for “carp” in Romanian is actually “crap.”  I later explained this to the host family, between giggles (“crap, in English, means…when you go to the toilet”), and they got quite a kick out of it.  So.  We went fishing for “crap.”

It was all very interesting.  They didn’t have a fishing rod, but instead had wrapped fishing line around cardboard, tying a rock to the end of the line, and then three lines with hooks at the end, evenly spaced at the rock end of the line.  No women were fishing along the river, only men, and mostly older men.  Our host was the only woman, and I was proud of her for that.  She unraveled the line, carefully so as not to tangle it, and attached some worms to the hooks.  Then, leaving lots of slack and checking over her shoulder to see that nothing was in the way, she picked up the line and swung it around several times before letting it fly into the water (plunk!).  Then she attached the remaining line to a stick on the side of the river, and tied a small bag with dirt to it so that we would know when we caught something.

 

 

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Unfortunately we were unlucky fishermen that afternoon, but the experience was great.  We did go back later that evening and ended up catching one good-sized fish.  And that, my friends, I would call a success.

The Titanic…in Moldova?

In my village, you know spring is here when the inflatable bouncy castles begin to appear again.  They fill the structures with air in a few spots along the main road, and children (for a small fee) can have some time bouncing around and, well, being children.

Well, this weekend I was taking a stroll along the main road, and there, in front of the post office, I recognized one of these structures.  It was a replica of the Titanic.  Sinking.

I stopped for a moment, cocked my head, chuckled, and continued walking.  I’m not sure who designs these structures, or how they came up with the idea to recreate this iconic disaster as a kids’ bouncy castle, but I half expected to see Leonardo DiCaprio at the mast yelling “I’m the king of the world!”

The next day, I had my camera with me, and I had to snap a picture.  Enjoyably bizarre.

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Catching up: New Year’s

I know this post is LONG overdue, but the experience was worth sitting down to recount.

New Year’s is a BIG deal in Moldova.  I mean, it is THE holiday.  I think the comparable holiday in the U.S. would be Christmas.  New Year’s in Moldova is a time for family and feasting.  Everything shuts down, women prep food for days, and everyone toasts to the coming year.

I spent the holiday in a small village with another volunteer’s host family this year, and it was great.

The day of the 31st, we helped prepare food as “well-wishers” (much like carolers) came to our door ringing bells and singing well-known Moldovan songs about the new year.  Kids came, groups of adults, and we gave them food, treats, and sometimes a little money in return.

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The host family has three sons, one who lives with his wife and daughter in Romania, one who lives a few houses down the street with his wife and daughter, and the youngest who studies in Romania most of the year.  Their wives are all from the same small village, so when they come back for the holidays, there is lots of family to see.

Right around 10 p.m., it was our turn to carol.  We went with the host mom and her youngest college-age son to the doors of her middle son’s home, and then to her oldest son’s in-laws, singing at the door and stepping in for a little food and champagne.  Around 11:30 p.m., they all gathered at our house to feast and toast to the New Year.  We set up the table in the family room in front of the couch, lining the other side of the table with chairs, and then we started bringing in the food, barely fitting the vast array of plates onto the table.  One of the favorite dishes that the host mom prepared was this fruit dish arranged in the shape of a snake.  She said she had heard that, according to Chinese horoscopes, 2013 was the year of the snake.  It was great.  Everyone was poured a generous glass of champagne, we counted down to midnight, and then we cheered and toasted “To many years!”.  The men went out to shoot their rifles into the air (they live along the edge of the river, so they shot them away from the town and into the forest, but I still had to bite my tongue to avoid becoming a live American PSA: “random gunfire is dangerous!”).  And then, of course, all 13 of us gathered around the table and ate.  And ate, and ate, and ate!  And laughed, and joked, and told stories.

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Right around 4 a.m., I was ready to turn in, but the party continued at the table.  The next day, we all slept late, and the two grandchildren were treated to a Christmas surprise (Santa came!).

We spent the brisk, but sunny, afternoon hiking in the woods and along the frozen river, and then in the evening, we were invited out on the town with the host brothers and their wives.  We headed to the center of the village where there are a few bars that locals like to frequent.  And then, one of my prouder culinary accomplishments in Moldova, we taught our local friends the practice of adding citrus to beer.  (Anyone a fan of Blue Moon?)  We squeezed an orange wedge into our small cup of beer, and then told them to try it.  They loved it.  And that, my friends, is an accomplishment.  Often when you introduce new foods or spices or seasoning to people other cultures, they don’t always love the new taste or tradition.  But this was a success.  And for the rest of the night, we squeezed orange slices into our beer.

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It was a great experience, a fantastic celebration, and I felt so thankful that this Moldovan family was willing to open their home and share their traditions with us.

Sum of days

Well folks, I’m about five months out from the end of my service now, almost to the day.  We pulled our leaving dates out of a hat at the beginning of the month, and I got July 16th.  Weird.  I don’t know how I feel about it.  Mostly I can’t believe my two-year service has gone by this quickly.  On one hand, I haven’t been home in almost two years, I haven’t seen my sisters in almost two years, and I cannot wait to go back and catch up with family and friends.  On the other hand…how do I leave this country, and this time in life, behind?

That said, I’m a big fan of Donald Miller and his book Through Painted Deserts.  And this quote from that book resonates with me, tonight especially:

“It occurs to me, as it sometimes does, that this day is over and will never be lived again, that we are only the sum of days, and when those are spent, we will not come back to this place, to this time to these people and these colors, and I wonder whether to be sad about this or to be happy to trust that these hours are meant for some kind of enjoyment, as a kind of blessing. And it feels, tonight, as if there is much to think about, there is much we have been given and much we have left behind.”

Well-wishers

This group showed up at my office today with quite a performance.  They’re dressed in traditional Moldovan garb and playing the music you hear on traditional Moldovan instruments.  They’re called “urătorii,” which basically means “well-wishers,” and they visit the offices singing and putting on performances, wishing everyone lots of years, happy holidays, and something along the lines of an abundance of crops (fruit, vegetables, etc.) and healthy goats.  It’s a winter tradition here in Moldova.

I was so disappointed that I didn’t have my camera with me, but luckily one of my colleagues had his camera and recorded most of their performance.  At the end, we all threw in some Moldovan lei (money) and gave them a bottle of champagne and box of chocolates.

Don’t miss the bit with the little boys and goats at 3:40!  It’s too cute.

Crăciun fericit! Merry Christmas!

Last year I spent the Christmas holidays traveling.  And, as exciting as it was, I missed home and the traditions of home a lot.  This year, I decided to stay in Moldova and celebrate the holidays in my (now) home.

This, of course, meant I had to start with my family’s first tradition: decorating.  I went out and bought a little garland, a modest tree, and some Christmas lights, and then I had to get creative.  I tied up some gold ribbon, wrapped some pine cones in red and green bows, stuck some festive candles in used wine bottles, and covered a few jars with salt for a “snowy” look.  Altogether, it made for a pretty festive room.

I ended up hosting about 12 volunteers for Christmas dinner, and with the help of our stellar Chef Christopher, we prepared quite the meal.  Roasted duck, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus and shrimp (two very expensive commodities in Moldova), cabbage salad (thanks mom for this recipe!), a fantastic cheese platter, and Christmas cookies and fudge for dessert.  It was DELICIOUS.  Conveniently, we were visited that night by two groups of carolers – some middle school age boys who were going around knocking on doors.  We treated them to some cookies and a bit of money and thanked them for their visit.

I had a full house of guests for a few nights, and we watched all the classic Christmas movies (White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Die Hard…yes, you read that right).  We also went to a midday mass on Christmas and spent some time grabbing coffee at a nice shop down the road.  Then, on Christmas night, we sat down together and read the Christmas story from the Bible.  It was great.

I also got to Skype with my family.  They opened the package I sent back home with gifts from my travels and from Moldova, and they had a few gifts for me that are waiting at home.  It was a great way to spend the holiday.

Merry Christmas from Moldova!

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So much SNOW!

Snow as far as the eye can see.

Up until the first week of December, we’d had a relatively warm winter.  I was starting to think I was going to have a freak Arizona-type Christmas with temperatures in the 40′s.  And then the past few weeks happened.  This weekend it’s been snowing nonstop.  And I could not be more thrilled that we are going to have a white Christmas!

Forecast for the rest of the week?  More snowfall.

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