You’re good to marry

Last week I made no-bake cookies for my host family and colleagues at work.  It was my partner’s last day (she is moving on to a new job, one that is a great opportunity for her), and I wanted to do something nice, so I thought I’d dazzle my Moldovan co-workers with some good ol’ fashioned American baking.

Rows of cookies lined up to cool. To make these, I had to search Moldova high and low for peanut butter, a commodity less common here than in the States.

The good news is, everyone loved them.  Or, if they didn’t, they were kind enough not to point it out.  And it felt good to hear their positive feedback (these are better than what you can buy in the store!), but I enjoyed one line in particular: “ești buna de maritat,” which technically translates “you’re good to marry.”

I enjoyed this for a few reasons.

So much of a culture is encapsulated by its language.  The two are inseparable.  And so, when my colleagues told me, “you’re good to marry,” I suspect the American version of that would be more along the lines of “you’re a good cook.”  Culturally, there are certain sentiments, certain norms, that just don’t translate well, or at all.  So I first enjoyed what the phrase says about Moldovan culture.

Second, sometimes I try to imagine certain conversations I hear in Moldova taking place in the States, and it just makes me laugh.  And it’s not as though the conversation itself is funny or offensive or strange.  But there are just certain phrases that wouldn’t be used in the States.  And I think “you’re good to marry” is probably one of them.   I think there’s an expectation of political correctness in the States that doesn’t quite exist in Moldova.  And I think it sort of gives more character to the language here.  There are just some things that are distinctly Moldovan, and other things that are distinctly American.  And imagining the convergence of those two camps makes me smile.

Monastery Hîncu and Day of the City

Several weeks ago, my village celebrated “hram,” which means “day of the city.”  Each city, town or village has one, and on that day they celebrate.  Many offices in the city close (like mine) and people get the day off.  (This can get complicated in towns like mine where people live in the capital and commute to work in my town.  When the capital has its “day of the city,” their kids will get the day off from school, but they’ll still have to work, and vice versa.)  Regardless, I was happy to have the day off, and my host family actually suggested we take an excursion to a beautiful Orthodox monastery in Moldova named Monastery Hîncu.  So, on our day of the city, my host mom and sister packed the car full of food that they had been preparing the day before, told me I needed to wear a skirt and bring a scarf, and we set off.

When my family said it was far, figured we might be in the car for an hour or two, but it only took us about 45 minutes.  (This is, without a doubt, a Phoenix thing.  For me, 45 minutes used to be my commute to work.)  The drive was beautiful; the normally lush green countryside had changed colors at the arrival of fall, and I watched the reds, oranges and yellows fly by as we rounded curves through the country roads.

We arrived to many cars parked alongside the road leading up to the monastery.  I got out my scarf and wrapped it over and around my head (an expected norm for women in the Orthodox church here in Moldova).  And it was beautiful.  (If you’d like to read up on the history, this website provided some good information and pictures).

In front of the Monastery

There was some sort of ceremony or procession starting, and so I watched as men and women in tradition Moldovan dress carried out a picture of Jesus, a traditional Moldovan braided bread, and some sort of alter adorned with flowers.  People walked up to touch and kiss the alter as men carried it to the center of the monastery’s complex.  Then a bunch of priests walked by, dipped a brush in holy water and, with a flick of the wrist, sprinkling it on the surrounding group.  (I was trying just to observe out of the way, but they found me, and I too was splashed with the holy water.)

Next, my host family went into the church.  Inside, there was a group of lit candles in the middle, some alters, and pictures of Mary and Jesus.  People walked around to each alter, lit candles, and kissed the pictures (you know you’re American when…all you can think about is how unsanitary it must be for people to repeatedly kiss the same pictures in the same location).  I stayed toward the back, quietly observing, and all of the sudden a woman shrieked.  The sharp noise pierced the air, and the people standing in line in front of an alter immediately spread like some sort of magnetic repulsion.  In the middle of the circle of people was a woman lying flat on the ground.  I’m not sure if it was she who shrieked, but a priest in the church immediately went to get holy water, dipped a brush into the holy water, first cleansed the fallen woman’s face, and then splashed it over the surrounding group.  Knowing very little about Orthodox faith, it was fascinating for me to observe.

We finished at the monastery, and, our on way out, stopped in front of the forest to take pictures at my host mom’s insistence (Jennifer, it’s so beautiful!  Takes photos!).  Then we ate a late lunch at a relative’s house nearby, and headed back to our town for hram (day of the city).

Me with my host mom, brother-in-law, and my two host nieces.

Most of the action was outside the Casa de Cultura (house of culture) where a lot of community events happen.  A culture house is sort of like a convention center; ours looks a lot like a high school auditorium.  But we were all outdoors, cold enough to see our breath, but that didn’t stop a crowd from gathering in front of the Casa de Cutural steps where entertainers were singing tradition Moldovan melodies and dressed in tradition Moldovan dress.  Various stands lined the streets, most with toys or food.  There were cotton candy machines, popcorn machines, a beer stand, and this big portable stand making some sort of chocolate covered bread.  It smelled so delicious that I had to try it.  I convinced my site mate to split one with me, and it was heavenly, especially in the cold.  It was like the breaded part of a pig in a blanket, except it was much bigger, the middle was empty, and the outside was brushed with chocolate and dipped in nuts.  I hope they come back next year!

It was a good day.

On Halloween

Let’s rewind back to October for this post.

A couple of weeks ago I went out to another village to help a couple of other Peace Corps volunteers with a Halloween party they organized for local youth.  Overall, it was a great turnout, they had lots of activities – pin the face on the pumpkin, face-painting, a mummy race, and an “Ewww, what’s that?” station where kids stuck their hands into gross stuff like “brains” (spaghetti) and “eyeballs” (grapes).

They also had lots of candy and extra costumes on hand so kids could show up and pick out something from the pile.  There were 11 Peace Corps volunteers to help out, and a Moldovan teenager manned the music.  It was a good time.

All of that said, I wanted to share a bit about the Moldovan perspective of Halloween.

Moldova is a very religion-oriented country.  Something like 90 percent of the population is Orthodox, and the remaining number is generally some denomination of Christianity/Protestantism (Baptist, Catholic, etc.).  It’s very common for someone to ask what religion you are, people automatically assume you believe in God, and Peace Corps volunteers who identify themselves agnostic or atheist have a very difficult time getting host country nationals to understand what that means.  On many street corners in villages throughout the country, you find what I might call an alter – usually a portrayal of Christ on the cross meant to protect people passing by.

Considering the influence of religion, it is understandable why many Moldovans might not view Halloween very favorably.  And though my we were able to successfully organize a Halloween party in one village, other localities were not as ready to embrace the American holiday.  Through the volunteer grapevine, I heard a few stories of village priests objecting to similar events on the grounds that Halloween is a holiday of the devil, and they would not allow that kind of celebration in the village.  I also had an interesting conversation with someone who works in my building.  Though he knows that Americans and some countries in Western Europe celebrate Halloween (he lived in Ireland for a period of time), he explained that many Moldovans do, in fact, consider it an evil holiday–a satanic celebration.

I offered my input, that, for my parents and my family, it was more like a community holiday.  We carved pumpkins, all the kids in the neighborhood dress up as fun and different characters, and we all walked door-to-door with our parents saying “trick-or-treat” hoping to collect a mountain of candy in return.

But it was interesting to hear perspectives from a different culture.  Part of our responsibility as Peace Corps volunteers is to share and create a better understanding of American culture abroad.  And I’m glad I had the opportunity to share my experience of Halloween as a kid in the States.  But there are also some cultural norms or nuances that just don’t work in another country.  They just don’t translate.  And that’s okay.  Moldova doesn’t have to celebrate Halloween.  However, I do hope we can continue to share that, for Americans, Halloween may mean different things to different people.

That said, I will accept any leftover or on-sale Halloween candy from the states at the following address!

Peace Corps Moldova
PCV Jennifer Kitson
#12 Grigore Ureche Str.
2001 Chișinau, MOLDOVA

The first snow!

 

This morning I woke up, slid out of my warm bed, and journeyed outside and around the house to the kitchen, where I cooked oatmeal over the stove, boiled some water for tea, and sliced a banana to eat with my breakfast.

When I left the kitchen, it was snowing outside!  The first snow.

Snow is a big deal when you’ve lived in a climate like Phoenix with mild winters.  I took my down winter jacket off the hanger and enjoyed my walk to work with flakes falling around me.