Well-wishers

This group showed up at my office today with quite a performance.  They’re dressed in traditional Moldovan garb and playing the music you hear on traditional Moldovan instruments.  They’re called “urătorii,” which basically means “well-wishers,” and they visit the offices singing and putting on performances, wishing everyone lots of years, happy holidays, and something along the lines of an abundance of crops (fruit, vegetables, etc.) and healthy goats.  It’s a winter tradition here in Moldova.

I was so disappointed that I didn’t have my camera with me, but luckily one of my colleagues had his camera and recorded most of their performance.  At the end, we all threw in some Moldovan lei (money) and gave them a bottle of champagne and box of chocolates.

Don’t miss the bit with the little boys and goats at 3:40!  It’s too cute.

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Crăciun fericit! Merry Christmas!

Last year I spent the Christmas holidays traveling.  And, as exciting as it was, I missed home and the traditions of home a lot.  This year, I decided to stay in Moldova and celebrate the holidays in my (now) home.

This, of course, meant I had to start with my family’s first tradition: decorating.  I went out and bought a little garland, a modest tree, and some Christmas lights, and then I had to get creative.  I tied up some gold ribbon, wrapped some pine cones in red and green bows, stuck some festive candles in used wine bottles, and covered a few jars with salt for a “snowy” look.  Altogether, it made for a pretty festive room.

I ended up hosting about 12 volunteers for Christmas dinner, and with the help of our stellar Chef Christopher, we prepared quite the meal.  Roasted duck, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus and shrimp (two very expensive commodities in Moldova), cabbage salad (thanks mom for this recipe!), a fantastic cheese platter, and Christmas cookies and fudge for dessert.  It was DELICIOUS.  Conveniently, we were visited that night by two groups of carolers – some middle school age boys who were going around knocking on doors.  We treated them to some cookies and a bit of money and thanked them for their visit.

I had a full house of guests for a few nights, and we watched all the classic Christmas movies (White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Die Hard…yes, you read that right).  We also went to a midday mass on Christmas and spent some time grabbing coffee at a nice shop down the road.  Then, on Christmas night, we sat down together and read the Christmas story from the Bible.  It was great.

I also got to Skype with my family.  They opened the package I sent back home with gifts from my travels and from Moldova, and they had a few gifts for me that are waiting at home.  It was a great way to spend the holiday.

Merry Christmas from Moldova!

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So much SNOW!

Snow as far as the eye can see.

Up until the first week of December, we’d had a relatively warm winter.  I was starting to think I was going to have a freak Arizona-type Christmas with temperatures in the 40’s.  And then the past few weeks happened.  This weekend it’s been snowing nonstop.  And I could not be more thrilled that we are going to have a white Christmas!

Forecast for the rest of the week?  More snowfall.

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Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

A few weeks ago we launched a new department of our Agency, a project jointly funded by USAID and the Polish government.  The new office will assist local public authorities (like mayor’s offices and district councils) with tasks like project writing.

It was quite the event, attracting all the big political players in the town, and included the participation of the U.S. Ambassador to Moldova and the Director of USAID Moldova.  The ambassador’s black diplomatic sedan with its American flags on either end of the hood was parked outside our building when I got to work that morning.  I managed to snap a few shots of the ribbon cutting through the crowd.

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Winter Bazaar

Saturday, December 8th was this wonderful event we like to call the Winter Bazaar.  Basically, all the embassies, along with some other NGOs in Moldova, run booths in this big exhibition center in the capital.  Why is it so great?  Well, really, it starts (an maybe ends) with the food…

All the embassies prepare local dishes from their respective countries and sell them to help raise money for charity.  The Chinese Embassy had dumplings, there was an Ethiopian dish being sold, the Italian Embassy made some wonderful meat/cheese sandwiches, and the U.S. Embassy brought out the big guns…(drumroll please)…Starbucks coffee!

Peace Corps also had a booth, and we focused more on dessert.  One girl made empanadas, another made cheesecake, and I teamed up with a friend of mine to prepare loads of Christmas cookies to sell.  We invited a Moldovan girl we know to sell her beautiful jewelry at the booth, and another volunteer brought out herbs from his partner organization to sell.  And then we manned the booth.

There were some funny incidents, like the older woman who took two cookies and told us that we were going to give them to her as a gift.  Ha.  But it was really just great to be there, enjoy the food, and meet other Americans living in Chisinau (quite a few missionary families).

Other booths sold handmade Christmas cards, artisan crafts, ornaments, scarves and jewelry.  There were performers and music and some pretty great raffles.  And there were crowds of people shuffling through the aisles from booth to booth.  I went last year with a friend of mine who has now left, and I really enjoyed it.  And I much as I miss her, I loved going again this year.

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Thankful for Thanksgiving

This year, I had the pleasure of hosting about 10 volunteers in our little apartment for Thanksgiving.

We set up a table in our guest room, put out some inexpensive table decorations, and laid out an array of plastic dishware.  And we cooked quite a feast.  Two turkeys, stuffing, made a green bean casserole, garlic mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, a fantastic potato salad, apple crisp…it was wonderful.  We popped open some champagne, wine and even a little whiskey and laughed together for a good few hours.

Some of us talked about how we felt, how this year actually felt harder than last.  I think this might be because much of the “newness” of our service has, at this point, worn off a little.  I think some of us are missing home a bit more and wanting to be with family and celebrate our familiar traditions the way we’ve celebrated them for years.

But I so appreciated gathering around the table with this group.  And the food was just phenomenal (thank you to everyone who helped!).

I do miss home, but I actually enjoyed this Thanksgiving much more than the previous year.  I liked the intimate setting, the group discussion, and being able to welcome people to my home here and recreate a tradition that many of us so cherish.

I remember sitting around the table two years ago with my family, having just completed my initial interview for Peace Corps and wondering where life would take me.  This year, I’m thankful life brought me to Moldova, surrounded me with many other wonderful volunteers and provided me with a place to share our American traditions together.

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