Little tidbits about Moldovan life

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One of the strange things about being here is realizing that I will never be able to fully share this experience with anyone back home.  It’s just impossible to convey all the nuances of Moldovan life, report all my daily experiences, or describe everything around me.  But it did get me thinking…what are some little things I want to share?  And I was able to come up with a few…

Rutieras

This is one of the main forms of transportation around Chișinău.  It costs 3 Moldovan lei per ride, which is less than $0.30.  And at least once a week, we take a rutiera into the capital city from our suburb.

The best way that I can think to describe what a rutiera looks like is to think, first, of a medium-sized party bus, then take out all the bells and whistles.  They’ve got about 10 rows of seats in length: the back row has four seats, then the two rows in front of that have three across (two on one side, an aisle, and a single seat on the other), then the rest of the rows are just pairs of seats on one side of the vehicle.  If all the seats are taken, people stand in the remaining space and hang on to the nearest seat, metal bar, or person.

There’s a Peace Corps joke about how many people can fit on these vehicles: always one more!  But really, it’s true.  Sometimes the rutieras get so crowded that, just when you think there is no humanly possible way that one more person could fit on the vehicle, three more squeeze through the door.  Rutieras are like the Mary Poppins bag of transportation vehicles.

Masă

Masă is the word for table.  Sometimes I feel like the rutiera rule can be applied to their tables – there’s always room for just one more!  Moldovans are very hospitable and welcoming, and they always make sure their guests have enough food and drink.  (For those of you who don’t know, many Moldovans make their own wine, vodka and cognac.  I have yet to taste homemade vodka, but I have had some homemade wine and cognac.  Both the wine and liquor are usually served in a large shot glass, and you can sip or throw it back.  Personally, I like to take a more cautious approach and just sip.)

Curat

Curat is the word for “clean.”  One thing that I admire about Moldovans is how well they care for their belongings.  The houses are cleaned often and thoroughly, everyone removes and leaves their shoes in the entry way every time they come into the house, the dishes are washed immediately after meals (at least in my home), and surfaces are kept clear.  They tend to their gardens and fill their front yards with flowers.  There are so many roses planted in the neighborhood where I’m living now – it’s absolutely beautiful.  They clean and polish their shoes and press their clothes.  Like I said, I admire how meticulous they are in caring for their belongings.

How big is your garden?

I’ve gotten this question a couple of times, and I just explain that Arizona doesn’t really have fertile soil, so my parents only have fruit trees.  In contrast, Moldova has some of the best soil in the world.  Almost anything will grow here, which allows families to plant and grow a lot of their own food.

Greetings

Moldovans greet each other according to the time of day.  So, in contrast to the simple “hello” or “hi” you might get in the States, they say “Buna dimineața” (good morning), “Buna ziua” (good day), and “Buna seara” (good evening).  It’s quite refreshing!

Those were just a few fun facts I could think of off the top of my head.  I only wish there was a better way to share this experience with everyone at home.  You’re in my thoughts, all!  And just know that I’m having a wonderful time exploring this new culture.  I’m drinking it in…just like the tea I have with breakfast, after most meals, and before I go to bed at night.  It’s delicious!

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UNO: Breaking cultural barriers

Uno is the new hit with my host family.  Last night, we taught my youngest host brother, Damian, how to play Uno.  Damian is 5 years old and always seems to be just bursting with energy.  He says my name a lot, but I usually can’t figure out the context.  He pronounces it “Zjenn – EE – fur”.  That said, I think he’s absolutely hilarious, and I wanted to share some of his best one-liners thus far…both during Uno and outside of the game.

  • “Vine Jennifer!” he yells when I come down the stairs.  (In Romanian, this means “Jennifer’s coming!).
  • His siblings taught him how to say “come to eat” in English.  So every night for dinner, I hear his feet running up the stairs, then he slowly peers around the door and says “Zjenn-EE-fur!  Cahm to EEEEat!”
  • During Uno, we had a blast.  Any skip card, any draw two card, he called out my name, even if I wasn’t the next player in line.  He continued to jibber-jabber, throwing my name around, and even made the comment “Jennifer, I’m going to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget!”  I laughed so hard – it was hilarious!  Then, when his mother called him downstairs for a minute, he handed his cards to his sister and said “Don’t play until I get back, understand?!”

All of that said, I’m really bonding with my host family and enjoying getting to know each one of my host brothers and sisters.  And I’m so glad I brought Uno – we’ve all enjoyed playing together.  Even Damian managed to win a round!

FAMILIE

(Side note: Yes, I do know how to spell family in English.  The above is how actually it’s written in Romanian. =)

I think I mentioned before, during our technical training, we all shared about our backgrounds and how we came to join the Peace Corps.  And one of the Peace Corps employees from Moldova talked a little about her childhood, living with her family and grandparents in a very small space, and, in the winter, gathering around the heat source in the kitchen and listening to her grandparents tell stories.  (Keep in mind, she’s just a few years older than me, so this is a fairly recent norm for Moldovan families.)  But it reminded me of some of the stories I’ve heard my grandparents tell over the years, and stories my mom has told us about visiting her grandparents growing up.  And it makes me a little sad that, in many ways, we’ve sort of lost that in the States.  It feels so far in our past.  Maybe we spend time with each other, but a lot of that time involves some other form of entertainment.  It’s almost as though we can’t just sit with each other anymore.  Allow me to elaborate…

My first week in Moldova, I went to a dinner party with my host sisters and a couple of other volunteers from another family.  After the fact, one of the other volunteers pointed out that Moldovans seem to be more comfortable with breaks of silence.  And I didn’t really notice it at the time, but now I’m definitely starting to pick up on that.  In comparison, I think we like to try and avoid any uncomfortable pauses in conversation in the States.  We get anxious; someone starts a new topic; we don’t like to sit in silence.

I want to be careful in the way I present this idea, because I don’t want to make Americans seem like we’re uncaring, unconnected, busy individualists with no desire to converse with other people.  I don’t think that’s true.  But I do think we hear the ticking of the clock more than other cultures.  And my fear is that maybe we’re quickly moving away from spending quality time developing relationships, and toward a way of life that puts less value in human connection.

And, as always, there are exceptions to this rule.  It varies between families, between people, and between times of the year (during holidays, for example).  But I just wanted to share that, because it impacted me in that moment, and made me long for the romance that comes along with living simply (why do I feel like I’m making reference to Thoreau’s Walden here?).  And I guess challenge anyone reading this is to have a night just sitting down with family or friends, leave the technology in the other room, ignore the ticking of the clock, and just enjoy being together.

Vorbesc românește…that is, I will eventually!

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For those of you who don’t know, and I’m assuming it’s a majority of you, “Eu vorbesc românește” means “I speak Romanian”.

Moldova thus far…where do I begin?

We keep hearing the mantra “Peace Corps: the toughest job you’ll ever love” and I can already see the ways in which that is proving to be true.  Only a week in, I feel like the experience has already been an emotional roller coaster.  I’ve already had the “what did I get myself into!?” reaction, the “Jennifer, you and your crazy ideas…” reaction, but also the “I’m so glad I’m here” reaction, the “I already love this place” reaction, and the “this is going to be one of the best experiences of my life” reaction.  In a nutshell, I’ve had a lot of thoughts and emotions.

Right now, we’re near the Moldovan capital undergoing pre-service training.  After eight weeks, we’ll all be moving to our work sites at villages all over Moldova, where all of us will start off living with host families.  After several weeks there, we’ll all return to our current host families for an additional two weeks of training.  I’ve already grown quite fond of my host family, so I was glad to hear we’ll be coming back to see them again not too long after our departure.

Host Family

I spent my first night with my host family last Wednesday, just hours after our arrival.  They have four children: two girls, ages 19 and 18, and two boys, ages 16 and 5.  The family is great; they’ve been so welcoming and have embraced me as part of their family unit, which I truly appreciate.  The three oldest children all speak some English, so communicating has not been a major problem.  I try and help them with English, and they patiently listen as I slowly repeat Romanian words three and four times in a row.  It’s great to have two college-age girls around.  It alleviates missing my sisters so much.  It’s as though I have a little part of home here with me.  We’ve already covered the “girl basics” – career plans, boyfriends, etc.  I really enjoy spending time with them.  And the boys are very polite.  I only wish I could speak a little more Romanian to communicate with the 5-year-old, he is quite the character!

On Sunday, the family actually took me to lunch at a crepe restaurant, which was a big treat considering restaurants are very expensive in Moldova.  They had me try every dessert crepe – no arguments here!  Though I did have to limit portions…there were about six dessert crepes.  “I am full” is actually one of the initial phrases I learned here.  After lunch, they took me to the zoo, and to the national park in the city’s capital.  It was such a great day.

Language Training

That’s right, as you may have guessed from the above paragraphs, I am learning Romanian!  The whole language thing is really a double-edged sword.  A few volunteers were assigned Russian, which is technically the more useful language speaking from a long-term, global perspective.  But Romanian is much easier to pick up.  That said, Romanian is very similar to Spanish, and I am so thankful to have a background in Spanish language right now.  I think it will really prove to be an asset in picking up the language and communicating.  Though, right now, I tend to mix in a lot of Spanish words with Romanian.  Working on that one…=)

Technical Training

During our eight weeks of pre-service training, we receive direction not only in the linguistic and cultural aspects of volunteer service, but also in the technical aspects.  Officially, I am a “Community and Organizational Development Advisor”, part of the COD program.  This week, we started “COD training” where all of the incoming COD volunteers gather together to learn more about what we will be doing and how we should go about doing that.  Leaving COD training yesterday, I was so excited.  I can’t wait to find out who I’ll be working with and what I’ll be doing specifically.  Don’t get me wrong, there will be countless challenges in this.  But this is why I came here.  I wanted to help make a difference.  And I’m anticipating the day when I can better navigate the language, and I am working with established projects at my work site.

During today’s technical training, we actually shared our “lifelines”, or life timelines.  This was such a great exercise.  I was so surprised by the diversity of volunteer backgrounds, the varying skill sets and to hear the incredible journeys that some of the volunteers have been through to get to this point.  It was such a fantastic bonding experience, and I felt privileged that this group shared so much of themselves.  We have a great group of COD advisors.

Moldova

I’m learning so much about the Moldovan culture and about its history – but I want to take in more!  It seems that I just cannot absorb information fast enough.  Moldova is, overall, a very rural and agricultural nation.  Most families are likely to have a garden and some farm animals.  My family grows beets, has a cherry tree, and keeps rabbits and chickens (yes, I did have rabbit, but at a neighbor’s birthday party.  I have to say, it was especially delicious.  Not the best place to be for those who are sensitive about eating animals, though.).  The country is also known for its vineyards, though I have not had a chance to taste their wine yet.  Drinking liquor also seems to be a cultural norm, especially among men, but getting drunk is generally frowned upon.  I’ve been offered both Bailey’s and vodka, but I politely declined the vodka.  Bailey’s, however, I accepted.  Just a little though. =)

What I love so far:

-Last night, I went walking with my host sisters around the village, and so many people were just out walking.  This is one thing I love about Europe.  People just meander.  Toward the end of our walk, we stopped to pick and eat cherries from their cherry tree.  I loved it.  When is the last time any of us did something like that in the states?

-The weather.  I think we’ve had temperatures in the 60s and 70s since I got here.  And it’s rained almost every day.  It even hailed on Sunday.  (So when they said bring a rain coat and rain boots, they weren’t joking.)

-Fresh food.  One of the benefits of living in an agricultural epicenter is that everything you eat is fresh from the ground.  Fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh eggs – it must be doing wonders for my insides not to be eating anything with pesticides, hormones or the like.  For lunch, I get bread, ham, an apple, two boiled eggs, and fresh cucumber.  It’s delicious.   Aside from that, I’ve also had duck, rabbit, chicken and a couple of hot dogs.

-The other night, an animal (likely a dog) broke into the pen where they keep their animals and ate 22 of the 25 of the baby chicks my family was keeping.  It was sad to learn that they had lost so many animals that they had hoped to raise and use as food sources, but I do like that they keep animals, and I like the word for baby chicks and wanted to share…it’s pui (pronounced pwee).

All in all, I’m having a great experience so far.  And yes, I absolutely miss home.  It’s funny, I’ve only been away for about a week, but just knowing the amount of time I’ll be away makes me miss home more.  As volunteers, we’ve discussed this phenomenon a bit.  Most of us are fairly independent people, and so it seems strange to have such a strong longing for home when we haven’t been away that long.  But I think it’s primarily a result of the massive changes going on around and within us, and the waves of emotion that accompany that.  Every day gets easier and more familiar though.  I know the time will fly by, and in two years, I’ll be wondering how it passed so quickly.

To wrap things up, I think I will end with a funny story:

A few nights ago, my host sisters invited me to their friend’s 18th birthday party.  After an array of delicious dinner food and cake for dessert, the teenagers of the group decided to play some games.

For all of the Element crew: they started with a game of Mafia.  I wish I knew enough Romanian to join in.  But I thought that was great – halfway around the world, they are playing the exact same game!

Following Mafia, they decided to play charades.  Keep in mind, at this point, I am very tired; it’s my second day in Moldova, I’ve got jetlag, and we’ve been doing full days of training.  To include me in the fun, they give me the first word: sheep.  So, on my second day, I get down on all fours in the dining room of a Moldovan family that I have just met, and I make a “baaaaa” sound.  Unfortunately, I was too groggy to remember that charades does not allow sound effects.  But they let that slide. =)  Needless to say, I thought the whole thing was pretty hilarious.