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!