The slow clap

This is one of my favorite things about Moldova.  I just think it’s great.  When large groups gather, and applause breaks out, that applause always somehow turns into a homogenous clap.  It starts with a bunch of different clapping at different paces…then, all of the sudden, the applause starts to gain rhythm and many claps become one…homogenous…clap, clap, clap.  As though the crowd is following the beat of a song.

This happens at concerts, at recognition ceremonies, and, most recently, when we were listening to the coverage of the Moldovan parliament finally electing a president after more than two years without one.

I asked my colleagues about this, if there was some kind of story behind it, and they said no.  Maybe it’s hard to clap very quickly for a longer amount of time, they said, maybe it’s something that began in the Soviet period when everything was uniform, or maybe people are calling for an encore.

It’s funny, in the States, if there is a homogenous clap at all , it is always at the beginning…clap, clap, then disperses into many different paces and rhythms.  In the States, we start as a group and merge into the rhythms of individuals.  Is this a greater metaphor for the history and evolution of our cultures?  Maybe.  In any case, I’m down with the slow clap.  Watch out, America, I might just bring it home with me.

One lucky girl

My host family from my training days drove down to Ialoveni this weekend for a short visit at my apartment.  (When I was at their house in February for my host dad’s birthday, they asked if they could come visit and see how I lived.  Of course!, I said.  I’ll be waiting!)

So they drove down Sunday afternoon and we enjoyed bruschetta, tea and cookies in my very small, and quite chilly, kitchen.  My little 6-year-old host brother corrected my Romanian and point out that I don’t speak it very well; sometimes I forget words.  Touche, sir.  I got a good laugh out of that.

AND they brought me the wonderful long-stem rose for Women’s Day, which my little host brother presented to me, and the beautiful marțisor pin below.  (See my previous post, Martz-EE-shore.)  Gorgeous.  So thoughtful of them, too.  I feel like one lucky girl.  Wanted to share!

Women’s Day

March 8th is Women’s Day here in Moldova.  Which means most of the country gets the day off.  Minus the women, that is, who will work hard preparing feasts (kidding, kidding…sort of).

But last week, the director of our agency came to me and asked me what I would be doing on Tuesday, March 6th.  I’ll be here!, I told him.  At which point he very kindly offered me an invitation to a special women’s event being held at the local Culture House, the place in town where they hold all kinds of different plays and performances.  The rest of the women at my work drew names for the second ticket.

So, Tuesday, after a little lunch, I headed over to the Culture House with my colleague Iulia.  So much estrogen in one place!  At the front, women exchanged their tickets for a small cash reward in a fancy, flowery envelope.  As we continued into the auditorium, section, all women were given a small bouquet of white flowers.  Flowers are handed out for almost every kind of celebration here in Moldova.

We found some seats and waited for the presentation to begin.  The president of our district (which is sort of like a state for Moldova), opened with a few words, wishing the women health, happiness, and success in everything they do.  He also said something I liked about women being the soul of men.  It sounded better in Romanian.

There were three singers who performed several songs, interspersed with some satirical skits based on a television series that aired in Moldova about a decade ago (as my colleague explained to me).

Then, on Wednesday, the men at work organized a luncheon for the women.  We spent the afternoon eating together, drinking wine, and toasting to women.  I had been in the capital helping with a seminar all morning, so when I arrived, the men made sure to present me with the gift they had purchased for all the women (a single pink carnation and some Dove body wash).  They stood, wishing us health and happiness, all the best, affection and appreciation from loved ones, and thanked us for all that we do.  It was very kind.

Women’s Day, like so many holidays in Moldova, is quite a big deal, as I am gathering.  It’s common to buy gifts and flowers for the women in your life, and everyone stops to celebrate the women in Moldova.  This afternoon, I plan to head over to my host family and bring the women a few small gifts and some apple crisp, which I told them I would make for them sometime.

But, while we’re talking about appreciating the women in our lives, I also want to take a moment to thank the wonderful women in my life – my mom, my aunts, my grandma – who I know read this blog.  And to my sisters, whom I adore, I think of you often.  And to my wonderful female friends, so many who have been so supportive through this experience, even all the way from the States.  I love you all!

I also took some photographs and video that I thought I’d share in celebration of today’s holiday, so I hope you enjoy.

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Below is a quick clip from Ion Suruceanu, who performed at the Culture House.  I’ve heard the song before, I think it’s pretty popular in Moldova.  In any case, I sort of like it.  Or maybe it’s that he’s wearing a cowboy hat and looks like someone straight out of Arizona…

Another quick performance clip.

And another!  Last one, I promise.

Happy Women’s Day, all!

My weekend in photos

The title says it all.

Did some economics homework.

Did some running through the countryside.

Watched Star Wars: Return of the Jedi with these little guys.

While watching Star Wars, made this guy for my friend Jenn, another volunteer here in Moldova. Turns out my lamp makes a great model for hats.

Did a little bit of reading.

Watched this movie. So fantastic.

While watching Inside Job, did some more crocheting.

Enjoyed a wonderful of American macaroni and cheese sent from home! I think this was the best bowl of mac & cheese I've ever had...

Martz-EE-shore

Right now, it’s marțișor (pronunciation above) in Moldova.  This is a celebration of spring that happens on the first of March.  Moldovans buy little red and white talismans, called marțișoare (martz-ee-shwaray), and pin them on the right side of their jackets or blouses.  I found this out the hard way when I put all my marțișoare on the left side of my jacket, and a woman in our building kindly pointed out that I should being wearing them on the left side, over my heart.  Hellooooo foreigner.

They buy them and give them out on the first of March, and then they all wear them for the rest of their month (on the left side, I might add).  I posted photos of the ones my colleagues gave me below, for anyone who’s interested.  Now I only need to figure out how to keep them from falling off.  I have been utterly unsuccessful thus far.

On tolerance

It’s amazing how experiences can open our eyes to things we thought we already understood.  Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about tolerance, and what tolerance actually looks like.  And this is why.

When you immerse yourself in another culture, it can be tempting to think of your ideas, your norms, your culture as “right.”  Which makes it a lot easier to view norms from another culture as “wrong,” and a lot harder to love or appreciate the people engaging in that norm.  And I think that can result in a certain amount of jadedness.  If we keep boxing ourselves into an attitude of “my ideas are right,” I think it become increasingly more difficult too see something from another perspective, or understand how other people arrived at those perspectives.

When we all met in Philadelphia to leave for Moldova, this was a topic of our orientation that day.  We were encouraged to think outside of “right” and “wrong,” and instead see things as “different.”  (Awhile back, another volunteer posted a link to a blog with some great thoughts on this concept, which I would encourage you to read.)  And I honestly think that concept has been key to my experience here.

My site mate is black.  I think I can pretty confidently say that he is the only black person in our town.  People used to stop us while walking through town to take pictures with him.  Moldova is not very racially diverse, so his presence here does not go unnoticed.  But my host family here at site very seriously told me that he could not marry a Moldovan because he was black.  I could marry a Moldovan, because I am white, they explained, but not my site mate.

At first, I admit, I was a little shocked.  This is completely contrary to the way I personally have been raised, and to the way the majority of Americans (not all, but most) think now.  In fact, there’s probably a large portion of the population that would’ve been outraged at such a statement.  In this moment, I could’ve reacted in a negative way.  I could’ve expressed disgust.  I could’ve started an argument.  And part of me wanted to.  But I felt it would’ve been contradictory.  There I would have been, expressing intolerance for views I believe to be intolerant.  Not that it shouldn’t be addressed, but is that really an effective way to send a message?

The fact is, as Peace Corps volunteers, I think we often find ourselves in situations like that.  Situations where our normal reaction might be indignance.  (I can’t believe they just said/did that!)  And this is where the challenge arises.  This is where I have to ask myself what tolerance really looks like, in practice.

To a certain degree, we all think our beliefs are “right” or we would not put value in those ideas; we would not believe what we believe.  But I think, in an effort to exercise tolerance, we also have a responsibility to respect and acknowledge that we have all been shaped in different ways by our environments.  We have all, somehow, someway, arrived at our beliefs.  And if I feel I can disregard how you arrived at your beliefs, then how can I expect you to try and understand how I arrived at mine?  It’s all in the way we approach it.

In any case, I believe that, at the core of tolerance, there exists the idea that all human beings have intrinsic value.  If I really believe that, then that must include even the people whose verbiage I have less patience for, or whose ideas I disagree with.

I think part of this is focusing on the person expressing the idea, and less on the idea itself.  Remembering that in most cases, anger and indignance only incites more anger and indignance.  Even if I believe something is wrong, I can still be tolerant of the person expressing the idea, and initiate calm discourse that kindly explains how I arrived at my conclusion.

So I’m becoming a student of tolerance.  I’m learning how to practice tolerance, not just in situations of obvious cultural differences, but in all areas of life.  And I’m trying to love the person behind the idea, even if I don’t love the idea itself.

I’m a work in progress.  We all are.

“In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” – Dalai Lama

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle