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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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!

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!