Today (August 24th) is my birthday. Today, I am 25.

And as I sit here looking back on where I was a year ago, how far I’ve come (literally and figuratively), how different life is, and how quickly we, as humans, adapt to change, I am simply amazed.

Thus, in honor of 25 years of life, I thought I might be fun to share 25 tidbits about Moldova. I hope they’re interesting enough to keep you reading through them all!

25 tidbits I wanted to share about Moldova

1. Moldova is beautiful. I don’t know that I expected to be struck by the beauty of this country, but I am. It’s green with rolling hills and colorful houses. I can’t wait to see how it changes through the seasons.
2. Placinta is a traditional Moldovan dish, and it is amazing. It’s like a pastry, and can be filled with cheese, fruits, cabbage, almost anything. And it’s delicious. Don’t worry, that is one recipe I’m bringing home to share.
3. I am convinced the fruit here has more flavor. I think this is primarily because they eat according to what is fruit is in season, meaning it’s grown more naturally.
4. Birthdays are a big deal. You thought getting a cake for someone was a sufficient birthday celebration? Think again. I have now celebrated three of my colleagues’ birthdays at work. The birthday person brings a feast of food for the rest of the office, lays it out like a Thanksgiving meal, and then we toast with wine, champagne and cognac to the health and long life of that individual. After, we wrap up with tort (cake) and bomboane (chocolate candies). Sometimes the feast is served during lunch, sometimes after work, and sometimes we feast at lunch AND after work. It’s wonderful. And, to top it all off, during the meal, people take turns wishing the birthday person good health, many years, for them to achieve their dreams, have wonderful families and rewarding careers. Really, it’s wonderful.
5. On the subject of birthdays, gifts should be given. In the States, this is a tradition that ebbs as we become teenagers and adults. But here, I think it is something that extends a bit longer. When it’s a fellow volunteer’s birthday, I’m always asked what gift I will buy to give to them.
6. There is a verb here that the use with almost everything: a face (a fah-chay). It means “to do” or “to make”. You can do cleaning, do a shower, do organizing, do a bath, make food, and the list goes on. The problem is, in the first person, the conjugation is “eu fac” (yo fak). I’ll give you one guess to figure out what other f-word that sounds like and why that might be awkward or funny for English-speakers.
7. Walking is a daily social activity. In the evenings, people dress in their best, take to the streets and stroll to their heart’s content.
8. Flowers are given on almost every big occasion. Usually roses.
9. Eating from your own garden is one of the most satisfying experiences in life. To cultivate something and eat from the earth is wonderful. It reminds me of when my grandpa used to take us berry picking in Minnesota. We, as Americans, really need to do more of our own gardening.
10. Moldovans eat tomatoes like Americans eat apples. The just bite right in. It’s sort of great!
11. In the peak of summer, days are long. The sun rises around 5 a.m. and sets after 9 p.m. In contrast, in the winter, days are much shorter. The sun rises between 7 and 8 a.m., and sets between 4 and 5 p.m. My host mom says in the winter we will make cake and sit in the kitchen and drink tea. And frankly, that sounds like a great idea to me.
12. Moldova has two autonomous regions: Transnistria and Gaugauzia. There’s too much history there to even begin to explain, so I would invite you to research them both.
13. Moldova will celebrate its 20th year of independence this week, on August 27. Twenty years ago, Moldova officially declared its independence from the Soviet Union.
14. On a more serious note, I want to discuss one of the sadder periods in Moldovan history, and one that we, in the Western world, don’t hear enough about: deportations. Under Stalin’s rule, during WWII and in the following years, tens of thousands of people were deported from an area known as Bessarabia, which includes parts of Moldova, Romania and Ukraine. Exact numbers are unknown, but the policy targeted those who were educated, those who had any sort of wealth, or those considered political dissidents. They were deported in the same way Jews were taken from their homes under Nazi rule, and transported in unspeakable conditions to Siberia, Kazakhstan and other areas.
15. Until Moldova declared independence from the Soviet Union, it is my understanding that most students, including my former host parents, learned Romanian language in Cyrillic script (Russian lettering). I tried to spell something in Romanian to my host parents once, and they had no idea what I was spelling. “Jennifer, we learned in with Russian letters,” they explained.
16. The official language of the State is Moldovan, and it is a dialect of Romanian. Moldovans call it “Moldovanește” and it actually includes a mix of Romanian and Russian words.
17. Most Moldovans speak at least three languages, sometimes even four. Romanian (Moldovan), Russian, French and/or English. It’s pretty impressive.
18. My site mate is from West Africa, so I have to devote one of these 25 tidbits to him. As you might imagine, there’s not as much cultural diversity in Moldova as there is in the U.S., so some Moldovans have never seen someone of a different race before. In the more remote villages, some have never even met an American. The result? When my site mate and I walk around town, people often hand me a camera and ask me to take a picture of them with him, a black foreigner. He’s really a great sport about it, and it sort of makes me feel like I’m walking around LA with someone famous.
19. If you are to be a guest in someone’s home, it’s proper to bring a gift. This is similar to one of our own customs – if you are going to have dinner at someone’s home, it’s considered a polite gesture to offer to bring something for the meal.
20. I’m learning that running for exercise here is not very common. So far on my runs, I get a lot of strange looks, I get offered rides to wherever I’m heading, and sometimes I get wished a genuine “good luck!”
21. Coffee here is done a bit differently. Coffee makers and coffee beans are available, but instant coffee is much more common. I bought a mug and a jar of instant coffee for work, and every morning I sprinkle some instant coffee bits into my mug and head to the water cooler for some hot water.
22. Every day, my host mom wakes up and shuffles their ducks out of the yard and onto the gravel road where they hang out and eat grass. I think this happens between two and three times a day. Sometimes I come home, and there are the five ducks, just in the road munching. I’ve never raised ducks before, and I’ve never seen them raised, so this is sort of novel concept for me. (You mean you just sort of wave them out into the road and leave them there for a bit? They don’t run away? And then you wave them back into the yard?) The best part about this is when my 4- and 6-year old host nieces help. The grab the end of a broom, about the same height as they are, and they shuffle the ducks back into the gate. It’s precious.
23. There are no screens over the windows where I live now. Instead, my host family hangs a lacey fabric inside over the door with two pieces of fabric overlapping it to keep the bugs out when they leave the door open in the evening. It’s a pretty great method, actually.
24. Shoes are left outside or in the front room. Moldovans keep their house impeccably clean, and shoes are not meant to be worn inside at all.
25. Moldova is a beautiful country with wonderful, hospitable people, but, like many countries, faces some significant challenges in development. Villages need clean drinking water, paved roads, programs for people with disabilities, health education, jobs, programs against human trafficking, and the issue of emigration (remittances make up about 1/3 of the country’s GDP). And this is why we’re here. We want to try and help and work towards solutions for these problems.

So here’s to 25 years behind me, and two more ahead in the wonderful Republic of Moldova!


My first week of work

My first week of work is now officially behind me! During this process of coming to Moldova, moving in with our training host families, and then to our permanent sites, I can’t help but wonder at how quickly we’re able to develop new routines. I’ve been here a week, but it actually feels like longer. Not sure if that is good or bad, both, or neither, but one thing is definite: we are adaptable.

Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m working with the strategic planning department of the Central Regional Development Agency. Starting out, my hours there are the basic 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. That may change if I get involved with other community projects in the future. Currently, my assigned partner at the organization is on vacation, so I’m working on several long-term projects until she gets back and things pick up.

The first of those projects is working on translating the organization’s website into English with my site mate Luma (the other volunteer assigned to Ialoveni and the Agency). That, in and of itself, is quite the animal. Translating is tough and draining. So I’ll work on that for a few hours and then take a break to do something else. The fantastic part is, once you understand what is being said, it’s a great way to learn about the Agency and how they function.

The second project I’m working on is comparing strategic planning documents/processes from the States to those in Moldova—or, more specifically, at the Agency. Also quite a hefty project, and so I’m trying to tackle it in pieces. I’m also trying to fit in some general organizational analysis. But it should be an interesting analysis overall. I’m looking forward to putting together the final product.

Lastly, my partner asked me if I would be interested in tutoring some students in English, so I’m doing that three times per week just for the month of August. It started with two teenage girls (twin sisters) who are leaving to study in Romania in early September, but last time I had five students total (a friend of the girls, one of my colleagues, and a sibling of one of my colleagues at the Agency). It’s been interesting to plan English lessons, and a lot more time consuming than I expected. But the girls seem to be making good progress. I just hope I can keep it interesting and help motivate them!

Other than that, life seems pretty normal.  There are a few things that have changed: I live with two young girls now, I bathe less, I use an outhouse, and I walk down a dirt road to work, but those are just minor adjustments.

Our next “volunteer goals” are to introduce ourselves to leaders in the community. That means the mayor, the school director (principal), and probably law enforcement.

Here’s to another week!

Simon Says…I’m getting married in Moldova

Allow me to rewind.

Tonight, after a delicious dinner of vegetable soup, followed by some amazing crepes with honey and homemade jam, I sat around the table talking with my host mom and sister.  They are two amazing women – working in the garden all day, preparing food three times a day, caring for the children, and my host sister (who I believe is about 35) works several days a week in the capital from 5 a.m. to midnight.  Like I said, two amazing women.

But as we were sitting outside talking, they asked me when my birthday was, and I told them it was coming up very soon–two weeks from Wednesday, in fact.  And it’s a big one, I’ll be 25.  They were very excited by this.  And then I remembered an event back in training with my first host family, and I began to share the story…

One day, while out for our regular evening stroll, my teenage host sisters from my first host family told me that their aunt and mother have a method to determine at what age a woman will get married.  (For my host sisters, it’s 20 for the eldest and 24 for the younger sister.)  So one Sunday morning, while sitting around the table, they were asking me if I had met any nice guys at a 4th of July party we had.  When I said no, they decided they should try their method on me to determine exactly when I’ll be married.  They carefully plucked a strand of hair from my head, put their mother’s wedding ring on the strand of hair, and held it over a tall glass half-full of warm water.  The ring starts to swing back and forth, and they begin counting the number of times it hits the sides of the glass until it stops.  For me, it stopped after 25.  So, that means I’m getting married when I’m 25.  And my 25th year starts this month, which means I’m getting married in Moldova.

When I relayed this story to my new host family, they were so excited…here in Moldova!  And my host mom said we’ll have a BIG Moldovan wedding.  I just laughed and said “we’ll see” and then I explained that my father in the States has specifically forbidden me from marrying a Moldovan because he’s afraid I’ll never come home.  No problem, my host mom responds, you can just take him back to America with you!  See, dad?  No problem!

Regardless, I hope to have many more good talks like this one over tea with my new host family.

My new site

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Ialoveni!  In Ialoveni, I’m living with a big family again: a grandma/grandpa (my host mom and dad), their daughter and her husband, and their two precious daughters, who are four and six years old.  They have a big, beautiful garden with raspberries, apples, cucumbers, corn, pears, grapes, tomatoes, and a lot of other foods, some of the names I only know in Romanian because I’ve never had them in the States.

All the bedrooms are off the main entry room, and to get to the indoor kitchen/bathroom you go outside and around the house.  The kitchen and bathroom are currently under repair, so they’re just empty tiled rooms now, but my family says they will soon be finished and beautiful (or “frumos” as they say in Romanian).  I’ll post pictures then!  Right now we use the outside toilet—not sure if that’ll be different when the bathroom is done (families sometimes just use the indoor toilet in the winter…or just for #1 in the winter), but I’ll figure it out then.

The food is delicious—my host mom is a great cook.  Most of what we eat is from their garden and animals (they have chickens and ducks)…so far I’ve eaten lots of chicken, fresh cut vegetables with oil and vinegar, corn, chicken noodle soup, pasta, crepes, placinta de brinza (which I’m pretty sure literally translates to “cheese pie” in English, but it’s amazingly delicious), bread, and cereal with a yogurt-like substance.  I love eating from their garden, and they work hard to maintain it and prepare food.  I feel thankful that they’re willing to share that with me.

Work.  Work!  I’m so excited to begin.  On Saturday, Luma (the other volunteer stationed in my village) and I sat in on a meeting with a youth organization that runs an online newspaper for my town.  (One of the students is going to write a story about us—we’re kind of a big deal?)  But once we got in that meeting, ideas just started rolling and I started to make a “to-do” list of all the things I want to start studying/preparing for work.

My primary organization is the Central Regional Development Agency (adrcentru.md), which is one of three government-funded organizations under the Ministry of Regional Development formed specifically to facilitate development projects in the northern, central and southern regions of Moldova.  As I understand it now, we work to facilitate/fund development projects under the following four domains: clean water, paved roads, waste management and tourism.  I’ll be working with the strategic planning department, sharing ideas and helping to build organizational capacity.  My partner at the agency (the Moldovan who I am paired with during this work process) mentioned an upcoming agency conference, and so I think my duties will include working with their communications specialist to see if I have any new/different ideas and strategies to offer.  I think it will be a fantastic experience, and I can’t wait to learn more about how the organization operates.

Aside from that, we, as Community Organization and Development Volunteers, have the opportunity to pursue other projects.  My partner at the agency already mentioned to me that there are three students looking for an English tutor for the month of August, before they return to school in Romania, so I agreed to meet with them over the next few weeks.  I also would love to work with the youth journalism organization (IaloveniOnline.md, if you want to check it out).  Lots of opportunities – we’ll see how this goes!

Missing home as always; I feel like I experience a range of emotions over the course of just one day.  Keeping busy helps, taking walks is always good, hearing from home helps, and I’ve changed my laptop background to scrolling pictures from home.  My new host nieces also help—they randomly run into my room to give me kisses, hold my hands when they take me to the dinner table and tell me that I’m beautiful and they love me.  How can your heart not feel full after that?  =)

I’ve got my own internet access now, so anyone who wants to Skype, just shoot me a message!

Leaving home…again!

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It’s been awhile, so there’s a lot to catch up on…here goes!

Friday was a big day for us.  Friday, we said goodbye to the host families we’ve been staying with, loaded our baggage onto a minibus and proceeded to the capital for our swearing-in ceremony.  After eight weeks of language and technical training, we swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteers and our two-year service clock officially started ticking.  Following the ceremony, we gathered our belongings and proceeded to our permanent sites with our new host families.  Like I said, it was a big day.

First, I want to write a post solely about my host family during training.

As I said to my host family when I left, I don’t want to say goodbye.  They were wonderful, hospitable, and invited me into their family and home with open arms.  I felt so grateful and so blessed to be a part of their family for two months.

The first weekend we arrived in Moldova, my host family took me to lunch at a crepe restaurant with their family friends.  The night before I left, that same family was over at our house, and it was a moment of realization for me.  I realized how much language I’ve actually learned, how long it’s been since I first arrived, and how much I’ve adapted to a new routine and new culture.  And, listening to the back and forth conversation, my host mom explained to their friends that I’ve become a part of their family.  And I just felt so touched.

The next day, as I’m lugging my things outside, they noticed my cross necklace was tarnished, and offered for me to wear one of their necklaces.  I said no, I couldn’t, and I won’t be back until September (we have a another two weeks of training then, and we’ll be staying with the same families) – can they really wait that long to get it back?  And they said no, Jennifer, it’s yours!  And then my host mom brings up the mug I’d been using to drink tea and coffee and says I should take it with me.  Again, I just felt so touched by their generosity.

I also have to mention, I have two wonderful parents in the States that took the initiative to purchase gifts for my host family and send them to me.  There were a couple of things I had requested the send to me, and they went ahead and found some great items for me to give to my family.  For my host brothers, they sent two Arizona t-shirts, they sent lots of nail polish for my host sisters (I got a couple of fantastic manicures from my host sisters in the two months I was there), tea and cookies for my host parents, a new game of Uno for me to leave with the family, and two Arizona shot glasses (my host dad loves to drink vodka when he has guests over).  My family loved, loved, loved the gifts—my host mom was hugging me even before I finished giving everything out.  The next day my host mom asked if I could Skype my parents so that she could say thank you.  It was so wonderful to be able to give something back to them, and I have to thank my mom and dad in SUA (USA) for that one.

All of that said, it was sad to leave them, but I’m so thankful to have a “family” and a “home” here in Moldova.  And I’m not far from them now, so I can visit often.  In fact, I plan to return at the end of August for my oldest host sister’s 20th birthday!  I hope to eventually feel the same way with my new host family.  Ialoveni, here I come!