God bless the food

One thing I continue to be amazing by is how much cooking and baking is done from scratch.  And without measuring cups (a phenomenon that continues to boggle my mind)!

I think about these rolls my mom makes every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas (hi mom!), and how much work she puts into those, and how even the slightest change in certain ingredients can change the way the rolls turn out.  There’s almost a science to it.  And it makes me appreciate the dishes and foods these Moldovan women make from scratch.

But really, I’ve seen women cook from scratch before (hi mom!).  What I found most interesting was that my host mom, who belongs to the Orthodox Church, makes the sign of the cross over each pan before she puts it in the oven.

God bless the food.

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The leaning bottle of water

Sometimes a seemingly simple object can be the source of some great stories.

A few months ago, my parents send me a package, and I asked them to include my stainless steel water bottle.  Well, they did, and I was so glad to get it.  But it’s this old, crappy bottle that I drop all the time, and after I drop it a couple of times, it sort of leans to one side because the bottom starts to curve outward instead of inward.

That said, my colleague tried to make it stand up straight when we were working on translating a document, and I smiled and explained that it was very old and I need to hammer the bottom back in (no, I did not know how to say this in Romanian, so I just made a hammering motion and said “I need to do like this.”)  And then I said, in broken Romanian, to my three office mates, “It’s like the building in Italy that leans to the side, it’s like the leaning Tower of Pisa.”  (Sound of my own laughter).

For those of you who know me well, you also probably know that sometimes–nay, quite often–I try to make jokes that just aren’t that funny.  And this one was probably even less comedically entertaining in Romanian.  That said, I thought I’d still post a picture to share.

This same bottle led my host mom to question why I carry this thing around all the time with water.

I explain that, being from Arizona, it’s very hot and I always carry around water with me.  But, also, it’s important for every person to drink at least 8 glasses of water every day.

She looks down at the mug in front of her filled with water, “I’m supposed to drink 7 more of these?!”

“Yes, I believe so,” I say. “I read that much of our body is made of water, and that we should drink a lot of it.  It’s good for health.”

“Ha,” she says laughing, “I can’t drink 8 glasses of water a day!”  And then she shakes her head and says the Romanian version of “good grief.”  I couldn’t help but smile along with her.

Learning Russian

My host mom decided this week that I will learn Russian.  Thus, for the past two nights at the dinner table, she’s been drilling me on my Russian, and with a fair amount of success, actually.  The reason I am surprised by this is because, as we sit around the dinner table at 9 p.m., I’m not sure if my brain is still working at that point.  And then I learn how to count to ten in Russian.  Go figure.  Our minds are powerful machines.

Why would someone need to know Russian in Moldova?  Actually, a lot of the products they sell are in Russian, there are lots of television shows and films in Russian, and there is a percentage of the population in Moldova that only speaks Russian.  So most Moldovans who speak Romanian can also speak, or at least understand, Russian.

That said, after two nights, I now know how to count to ten in Russian, and how to say “good morning,” “good day,” “good night,” and “hi.”

Now, reading those same words and phrases in Cyrillic script (Russian lettering)…well, that’s a whole other ball game!

And now, for anyone who wants to learn with me:

  • Good morning = “dobraye utro” – written “Доброе утро”
  • Good day/Hello = “zdrah-ss-voo-ee-tay” – written “Здравствуйте”
  • Good evening = “dobry vecher” – written “Добрый вечер”
  • Hi = “pree-vet” – written “привет”

New norms

In my experience, when you move to another country, over time you start to forget what your former norms were, and you start to have these moments of realization where you think to yourself, “this used to seem strange or new to me, and now it doesn’t phase me at all.”  You’ve developed a set of completely new norms.

Yesterday, I had one of those moments.  I had one of those moments when I was walking back to my host house for lunch, and I realized that I had sort of forgotten I was in Moldova.  “Oh yea,” I thought to myself, “I’m in Moldova.  For two years.  This walk used to seem new and different to me.  Crazy.”

In light of that moment, I wanted to share some other “new norms” I’ve developed over the past several months (3 months now!).

  • Eating a tomato like Americans eat an apple – you just bite right in.
  • Eating a cucumber the same way.  The cucumbers are smaller here, more like the size of pickles, and sometimes we slice them into four long strips, other times we eat them whole.
  • Taking my shoes off before I go into the house.
  • Boiling and filtering all of my own drinking water.  I’ve got a whole system to do this effectively and efficiently now.
  • Using an outhouse.
  • Greeting everyone with “good morning,” “good day,” “good evening,” or “hi” in Romanian.  It just comes out so naturally now.
  • Seeing goats out munching in grassy areas.
  • People walking their cows.
  • Russian.  It’s everywhere!  More on that in another post…
  • Dirt roads.  Though my site is a relatively larger town and has a good combination of both paved and gravel roads.
  • Stray dogs.  I used to notice them, but now they sort of just blend in.  My favorite thing is seeing little puppies running around barking at strangers.  They try so hard to be mean, but it just makes me want to cuddle them.  Unfortunately, a lot of the animals have flees, so I save the hugging for my host nieces.
  • Drinking tea.  Have to be honest, tea has never really been my thing.  But here, I love it.  I drink it every morning with breakfast, and sometimes after dinner before I go to bed.  Maybe it’s because it’s not as hot here, and I enjoy a hot beverage more when it’s cooler outdoors.  Or maybe I love it just because it’s a Moldovan thing to do.
  • Bathing once or twice a week.
  • Taking rutieras.  I wish I could even start to fully explain this one to people back home…but I’m just not sure that I can.  Basically, it just feels good to be able to navigate your way around a country pretty comfortably.
  • Waking up to roosters and barking dogs.
  • Typing in Romanian.  It gets easier every day.
  • Throwing toilet paper in the trash, and not in the toilet.
  • Using the stove to cook everything and not a microwave.
  • Eating salami.
  • Being a 10-minute walk away from work.  Probably one of my favorite things about living here.
Truly, there are so many things that I don’t even think twice about now, but that’s about all I can come up with for now!

A Wonderful Weekend

In Ialoveni, I work Monday through Friday, 9 to 5.  So I enjoy having the free time on the weekends to explore the community more.  And this is how I spent this weekend:

Friday

Friday, it actually rained in Ialoveni, which I loved.  I don’t know if it’s the novelty of it after having lived in Arizona for so long, but I do love the rain.  After work, I went for a quick run, which always helps put my mind at ease, and then I chatted with my host mom over tea for a bit about the Soviet area.  That’s a post for another time.

Saturday

Per my new norm, I started off Saturday with a long run.  I remember in Arizona, while training for the PF Chang’s marathon, running along these long stretches of road and easily getting in 13, 15, or 17 miles.  Now, it’s a bit more challenging to get the distance.  I run along the main road through the town, which is about 1 1/2 miles.  At the end of that road, there are four streets.  One leads back to my house, two lead through other neighborhoods, and the fourth leads to another village.  If I run to the other village and back, I can get about 7 miles in.  Down the other streets, I can’t quite get that amount of distance.  But Saturday I ran up and down a couple of roads and managed to get in about 6 miles.  Some of the volunteers are training to run the Athens marathon, so I started to pick their brain about how they get the distance in.  Most run to other villages or in circles around their village.

After my run, I bathed (beginning to appreciate that more now that I only do it once or twice a week!), and then I made my first attempt at cutting my own hair.  I actually bought hair cutting scissors and brought them with me from the States, figuring that cutting my own hair is more economical on a Volunteer budget.  So, I gave it a go, and it turned out pretty well.  I stuck to just trimming the front…the back I think I’m going to need some help with.  But it was a small accomplishment.

Next, I made the trip into the capital to meet up with another volunteer.  (I take a minibus to the outskirts of the city, where I switch to another minibus. I learned this route the hard way when my site mate and I tried to go in to the city center and got dropped off on the outskirts of the city.  Luckily, someone was kind enough to direct us to the microbus we should get on to go to the city center.)  Back to this past weekend…after meeting up with my fellow volunteer Andrea in the city, we ordered burritos from a stand along one of the main streets, and they were delicious.  They weren’t your typical American burritos…they chicken, tomatoes with what I think was mayo, cabbage, carrots, cheese, and french fries (yes, IN the burrito).  We were also offered ketchup, but we declined.  Regardless, it tasted pretty good after three months without any kind of Mexican food (boy, do I miss guacamole!).  Afterwards, we walked through some of the city parks, got some delicious ice cream at a ritzy stand in the park, and then continued on to the piața centrala (or central market).  There, I picked up some bananas – in the States, I used to have one every morning for breakfast, but those aren’t grown in gardens here, so I’ve been missing my morning fruit!

The weather outside was perfect.  Coming from 115-degree summers, this day was cool and breezy, and we had a wonderful, leisurely stroll.

We also chatted a bit about plans for Christmas.  This is probably one of the harder topics for me, as I LOVE spending Christmas with my family, and, for the first time ever, I won’t be doing that this year (I think it would be hard to come home having only finished 6 months of service and still having 18 months ahead).  I remember we spent a day in language class talking about holidays, practicing our “holiday” vocabulary, talking about what we usually do at home, and I actually teared up in class.  Granted, those two months of training were tough, and we were all tired and worn out, but thinking about not being with my family at Christmas made me sad.  But, onward…

After our day, I boarded the bus back to my site, bananas in hand, and then strolled around my town in the nice weather after arriving.  I even sat down by a WWII memorial outside the mayor’s office to sit and read Shantaram (my favorite book ever) for about an hour.  It was great.

Sunday

Sunday I finally got the chance to try our local Baptist church.  Here, the primary denominations are Orthodox, Catholic and Baptist.  Seeing as I fall under the “Protestant” umbrella, I thought I’d try out the Baptist church.  I heard about it from a volunteer who was previously stationed in Ialoveni, and I’ve really been missing my church community at home, so I found out where it was, what time the service started, and headed over.  It felt great to sit through a Sunday church service after not having been for a good 3 to 4 months now.  And I met several young couples in the community, along with the pastor and his wife, who I hope to continue to get to know over the next few years.  They have a Bible study during the week and an event for youth every Friday, so I hope to be able to explore some of those as well.  Later in the evening, I actually ran into a couple from the church, and let me tell you…it feels SO good to recognize someone in a town where you’re new, and still sort of a stranger.  I stopped and said hello, and explained that I was going to meet the other American volunteer.  It was great.

My site mate, Luma, has actually started going to a gym in town where all the guys go to lift weights and work out.  It’s been fantastic for integration, because now, every time we take a walk around the town (several evenings a week), so many of the guys stop him to shake his hand and say hello.  He was out having a drink with a few of the guys he’s met around town, and so, walking around Sunday evening, I got to meet a lot of his gym buddies and some of the high school students in the town.  I do feel pretty old here – there are few single people my age in the area.  Most are studying at universities abroad, working abroad, or married.  So most of the guys and girls we talked to are 17, 18, 19 and 20.  It’s funny, I never thought I’d feel so old at age 25!  But age hardly matters – it was nice to be able to chat with some of the young people around town.  I hope we get to do it more often.

And that was my weekend!

Vine toamna

Vine toamna (vee-nay toe-ahm-na).

Fall is coming.  Literally, this translates “comes Fall.”  And, for some reason, I love this saying.

Maybe it’s the sentence structure, maybe it’s because I love Fall weather, maybe it’s because Fall means the holidays are coming, or maybe it’s because I haven’t really had a Fall for 14 years now (95 degrees in October in Arizona is not what I would describe as “Fall”).

It’s a saying that I’ve heard from many Moldovans, and the signs are all around.  It’s cooler in the mornings and the evenings.  The sun is setting earlier.  Some of the trees are even beginning to lose their leaves.  School is starting.  And I’m excited.

Maybe in a few months I’ll be bundled up in long underwear and blankets wishing for summer, but for now, I’m looking forward to Fall.

A Moldovan Birthday

This is a post I wrote for our 365 Days of Peace and Friendship blog for Peace Corps Moldova, and I thought I’d share on my own blog as well.  Happy reading!

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This week, in Moldova, I celebrated my 25th birthday.

I’ve never really been good at celebrating my own birthday.  I like to be with family and friends, and it’s nice to get birthday wishes, but I get uncomfortable being the center of attention, and I really don’t like planning a party for myself.  All that said, I sort of wondered what it would be like to turn 25 in Moldova…and this week, I found out.

My second week at my permanent site, we actually celebrated a colleague’s birthday at work.  And I learned a lot about how birthdays are celebrated in Moldova.  At my previous jobs, we took the birthday person out to a restaurant, paid for their meal, and then maybe shared cake back at the office and presented the person of honor with a card signed by co-workers.  Usually pretty low-key, but a nice gesture.

In Moldova, I learned that, traditionally, the birthday person actually provides the meal and a cake for the rest of the office. This varies from place to place, of course, but the general idea is that the birthday person makes or brings everything.  At first, only knowing the American birthday tradition, this seemed a bit strange to me.  The birthday person does everything? But it’s their birthday, shouldn’t they get the day off?, I thought.  Regardless, as I volunteer here, my goal is to experience Moldova as it is, to embrace Moldovan traditions and be an active participant in Moldovan culture.  So I went home and asked my host family to help me prepare something for my office.  They were such a wonderful help.  And, little did I know, the Moldovan way would blow our American birthday traditions out of the water.

On my birthday, the first birthday wishes I got were from my site mate’s host mother.  She called first thing to wish me many years, and that I might find a life partner (if only I could say “you and me both, sister!” in Romanian…).  But her call was very sweet.  Next, my host sister helped me carry the cake and baked goods she and her mom made to my office.  At work, my first surprise was a beautiful bouquet of roses on my desk.  I think it was the best arrangement of flowers I’ve ever received. That surprise was followed by wonderful birthday wishes from my co-workers all morning.  In Moldova, wishing someone happy birthday is much more than just two words.  You wish them many years, you wish them happiness, success, health, a wonderful family, and you tell them you hope they realize all of their dreams.  They came in my office, and over to my desk, asked me to stand, and wished me all of these wonderful things.  It felt very personal, and very genuine.  I will never wish someone in the states just a lame, two-word “happy birthday” ever again.

About an hour before lunch, I asked a colleague to help me buy food at the magazin (store) next to our office, and we bought an array of meat, cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables.  Back at the office, we prepared the table in traditional Moldovan form—plates of salami, cheese, bread, a spicy carrot dish they like to serve here, bowls of fruit, cucumbers, tomatoes, placinta, wine—it was a true Moldovan feast.  And, like any true Moldovan feast, it started with a toast.  My colleagues, who I had only worked with for a couple of weeks at the time, showered me with wonderfully-worded toasts.  The wished me many years, all the best, success in work, family, life; I almost wish I had taken notes so that I can improve my “toasting” skills in the future. They also presented me with a gift—a beautiful clay pot with the word “Moldova” on it.  It was very kind.

And as we sat around the table enjoying the food, homemade desserts and Moldovan anecdotes, I thought to myself how wonderful it was to be able to treat my Moldovan friends to a big celebratory feast.  It’s sort of like Christmas.  As a kid, Christmas is awesome because you get so many gifts.  But as you grow up, you realize how much more satisfying it is to be able to give gifts to the people you care about and just to spend time together enjoying the company of one another.  And that’s how I felt on my birthday.  I realized what a pleasure it was to be able to give something to my co-workers and enjoy celebrating another year of life together.  And all of the sudden, our American birthday tradition seemed strange to me, and I wondered why we don’t take a more Moldovan approach to birthdays.

So here’s to a successful and satisfying 25th birthday celebration in Moldova!  A sincere note of appreciation to my host family and co-workers for making it a special day.  May we all enjoy happiness, health, long life, success, realization of dreams, life partners, and all the best things life has to offer.