Hram

Today is hram in my village.  What is hram?  Well, technically it would probably translate into something like “day of the city.”  Every village has one, and it usually involves lots of food, wine, some dancing, maybe a concert, and…did I mention wine?

Last year, I spent hram taking an excursion with my host family, then came back to my village for the concert and other outdoor festivities.  As I remember, it was COLD.  I mean, it wasn’t horrible, but I was not wearing enough layers of socks for standing outside.  But I really enjoyed the concert, tasted some great food, and watched the groups of people gathered outside to celebrate our city’s day.

So, why I am blogging this year as hram celebrations continue outside my window and down the street?

Well, as lame as it may sound, I am inside sitting at my computer, trucking away at grad school applications.  Yup!  It’s that time already.  Thinking about “down the road.”

So, since I went last year, I decided to stay in and focus on some other things that I just haven’t had much time to get to yet.  Surely the Peace Corps integration gods will punish me for this sacrilegious use of my time, but hopefully I can make it up during some other community/cultural event.

But I can still hear the muffled sounds of traditional Moldovan music playing outside, the boom of the fireworks, the shouts of “ehy!” and, in a small way, I still feel part of the celebration.

To many years, Ialoveni!

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Wine Fest in Moldova

So, there’s this great event every year in the capital, and last year I missed it because I was sick.  This year, however, I wasn’t missing wine fest for the world.

Basically, a whole bunch of wineries in Moldova line up as part of an exhibition and let you taste their wine.  They’re trying to sell bottles, so there is a purpose, and it’s great because we get to sample a variety of amazing Moldovan wine.

At one end of the festival, there’s a big food tent with grilled meat to purchase.  At the other, the entrance, local artisans come out and line their tables up in hopes of making a few sales.  I may have given them some business in my pursuit of Moldovan souvenirs.

We also bought a few bottles of great Moldovan wine.  Saving them for special occasions.  Fun fact: did you know the largest wine cellar in the world is actually in Moldova?  Just a hop, skip and jump away from where I live…

Here’s some photos and video of our afternoon at Wine Fest.  You’ll notice my roommate got pulled into a mean rendition of the “hora,” which, as I explained earlier in my blog, is a traditional Moldovan dance.  After that, people just broke out dancing everywhere.  The wine…may have been a contributing factor in that.

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My host sister, a Mrs.

My host sister from training got married this month!  I can’t wait to see pictures from the wedding.

I did not attend the wedding, but I did attend a celebration her parents had the day after the wedding.  They set up a huge table, made tons of food, and friends and relatives came, gathered round the table, ate, drank and danced together.  Keep in mind, this was the day after the wedding, which started Friday night and ended Saturday morning at about 6 a.m.

So Saturdayafternoon, my host parents had prepared this meal and hired musicians to come, and boy did they PLAY.  A violin, an accordian, huge speakers…it made for some great music.  We got in a circle and danced a traditional Moldovan dance called the hora, and I’m pretty sure the entire town could hear the music, carrying from the speakers set up outside their house, through the surrounding streets…

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Wine-making

It’s that season in Moldova!  Families are harvesting their grapes and making house wine to sell and drink for the next year.  I hadn’t had the chance to make wine yet, so I went down to another volunteer’s village, where his host family made about 4 tons of wine last year.

I don’t think the grape harvest was as plentiful this year, but it sure looked like a lot of grapes to me!  I helped for an evening, and then we went over to visit family friends and celebrate a birthday.  I also watched as the volunteer’s host mom plucked and prepared the chicken for dinner.  Lots of fun.

I did learn, however, that one should be very careful when consuming new wine.  If the wine hasn’t fermented all the way yet, it may taste fine going in, but it is quite unpleasant coming out…either of two ends.  I’ll let you make the connection.  I spent the next few days in a bit of pain (my poor American digestive system is not used to all these Moldovan traditions), but it was worth it.  Maybe I’ll get another chance to go down and spend a few days helping later this month.

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So you’ll see in the photos above…the grapes (fermenting) are put into that big metal tin.  Then we drain the tin through the spigot at the bottom and pour into buckets, filtering the wine with a colander.  Then we take the “filtered” wine and pour it into the big brown barrel (sees in the picture of me and host mom with the half-plucked chicken…it’s got a cork in it).  Just one step in the process!

Istanbul

Last month I had the incredible opportunity to meet a few friends in Istanbul.  I suspected I would enjoy the trip, but I had no idea that I would love the city so much!  We had amazing food, saw amazing places, drank amazing tea and saw amazing spices.  It was great.  Here are some highlights:

  • The first night we found an Irish pub down the street from our hostel and sat down for a drink and some food.  Turns out there was a big soccer game that night against a British team, and people had called in advance to reserve tables.  We literally got the last table and then sat there watching the soccer game with these passionate fans all around us.  Very cool.
  • The second night, we sat down for dinner at a place called Aloran Cafe & Restaurant, just down the street from my friends’ hotel.  Little did we know, this was one of the best decisions we made the entire trip.  The food, the service, it was amazing.  Granted, as Peace Corps Volunteers, the food is always one of the major highlights of traveling.  But this place exceeded any expectations we had.  If you go to Istanbul, look this place up.  Below is a video of something called a “testy kebab,” which is a clay pot with meat cooked inside.  They come out, pot in flames, then break the pot for you.  It’s quite an experience.
  • We spent hours at Topkapi Palace, where the Turkish sultans used to live.  Specifically, they lived in the Harlem with their families and “entourage.”  So much history and great information there.  The mothers of the sultans actually had quite a bit of influence and power, which was interesting.  But, within the palace grounds, there is a mosque/museum with various relics.  They had the sword of King David, the staff of Moses, the gold-plated arm of John the Baptist, the skull of another prophet, and the sword of Stefan cel Mare (relevant to Moldova).  I enjoyed seeing them, whether we can verify their authenticity or not.  On the way out of this section, a man sat (not sure what the formal word is for this) but he sat singing the Qur’an as the text scrolled on a monitor in English.  This was also very interesting.
  • We also did many of the other “tourist” things.  Saw the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern (from the Byzantine empire), the Galata Tower, the million stone, a boat tour of the bosphorous, and the spice market!  I had the BEST baklava at the spice market.  The colors, the people, it was…vibrant.
  • One thing that was very interesting was the prayer call broadcasted throughout the city.  If I’m remembering right, I think this happens five times a day?  Well, walking through the streets back to our friends’ hotel one evening, the call started over the speakers and I had to take some video to get the sound on tape.  Ignore the visuals…the camera is pretty shaky…but the sound is wonderful.  We actually talked about this a little, and what an amazing thing to know that, throughout the city, people are kneeling in prayer at this time.
  • The last night we went out to Taksim Square where all the nightlife is.  This was amazing.  Our hostel owners told us there would probably be about 300,000 people out.  I believe it.  It was packed with people walking up and down this pedestrian walkway with stores lining either side.  We walked down one street with lots of live music and sat and had drinks and just enjoyed the atmosphere.  I got some vidoe of the music and people dancing on tables inside one venue.

It was, in a word, wonderful.

For trip pictures, I’ll leave you with this link.

How our environment shapes our perceptions

Last month, we mourned the 11th anniversary of 9-11.

I can’t believe it’s been that long.

And, this year, living in Moldova, I came to a surprising realization.  Some Moldovans do not believe that 9-11 was really a terrorist attack.  Some Moldovans are suspicious about what happened; they believe it’s very feasible—or, in some cases undeniable—that the U.S. government was behind it.

I am not trying to start a conspiracy theory debate, or to make anyone appear ignorant.  My wish is not to anger any readers, or for anyone to create stereotypes based on this lone piece of information.  Nor I am defending our government, because our government’s actions have certainly not always been above reproach.

I say this in an effort to paint picture about environment and perceptions.  And how our environment plays such a leading role in shaping our perceptions of the world.

I remember that day, that morning, September 11.  I had just started my freshman year of high school.  I was getting ready to leave when my mom came upstairs and said there was something I needed to see.  She brought me down to our kitchen television where the news was playing and said that they thought there had been a bomb in one of the World Trade Center towers, and she wanted to show me because people would be talking about it that day.  Quite literally, as she’s saying this, she stops, eyes glued to the screen and says something like, “Oh my gosh.”  We had just watched the second plane crash into tower two.

I looked at my mom.  I didn’t understand.  What did this mean?  She said, “I think this is a terrorist attack.”

It was a half day at our school.  Everyone was talking about the events of that morning.  We even turned on radios and televisions and just followed the news.  And when the day ended, we went straight home and sat, in horror, in front of our televisions watching the news coverage.  Shocked pedestrians in the streets.  First responders.  People jumping.  The towers collapsing.  It was, in a word, awful.

So, to be honest, as an American, when I heard this viewpoint from some Moldovans, it was a hard thing to digest.  I think so many Americans remember that day so vividly, and with great sadness.  And I think my mind cannot even compute the possibility that our own government was a driving force in that.  Not because it’s not possible, but because we watched that day as so many lives were needlessly taken.  Another thing my mind just almost can’t compute.

And I wanted to share this, because I want Moldovans to know that story, to know that side.  To hear, from our hearts, what that day was to us, as individual human beings.

But I also want to remember, as an American, that 9-11 was not the only atrocity of the past decade, or several, or more.  Things are happening around the world that we should take seriously and remember to have sympathy for.  After all, what makes those any different from 9-11?  Geography?  Man-made borders?  Let us not run out of sympathy for people and families around the world who have been the victims of needless violence or oppression.  Let us have open ears and open hearts hear their stories, despite our perceptions.

Peter Singer, a modern philosopher, wrote an essay entitled “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” that you can read in the book World Hunger and Moral Obligation.  In that essay, he makes a profound point, one that I liked:

“The fact that a person is physically near to us, so that we have personal contact with him, may make it more likely that we shall assist him, but this does not show that we ought to help him rather than another who happens to be further away.  If we accept any principle of impartiality, universalizability, equality, or whatever, we cannot discriminate against someone merely because he is far away from us (or we are far away from him).”

Awhile ago, I visited the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  There, they have an exhibit with the front pages of countless newspapers from September 12, 2001.  That is what the picture below is from.