Back in Moldova

So I’m back from vacation now, and getting back into the swing of things.  My first day back at work was an eventful one, so this post is dedicated to last Thursday.

First sign you know you’re in Moldova: two Orthodox priests come to bless the office.  Let me rewind a bit.

My first day back from vacation, there was a project-writing seminar being held at my office.  (One of the major efforts in Moldova right now is teaching NGO’s and governmental offices how to successfully write grants, especially according to European Union requirements…more on the EU later.)  But I sat in on this seminar to see what they were teaching.  Midway through the morning, I hear an accordian outside and lots of shuffling feet.  Hmmm.  A little while later, someone opens the door and two Orthodox priests come in (see how Orthodox priests dress at this blog post).  Everyone stands (I follow), and one of the priests dips a brush (see photo below) in a perfumed liquid and then, with a flick of the wrist, sprinkles everyone with holy water as he recites a religious prayer and wishes us all success, or wishes the office success (one of those). 

Then the second priest comes in and attaches an adhesive above the door, annointing it with a smaller brush as he says, “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  They left, and we all sat down again to learn more about how to write good objectives.  (Small note here:  as I’ve started to observe, the holidays in Moldova really start with New Year’s, since the country still officially celebrates Orthodox Christmas on January 7, though some families are adopting the December 25 holiday.  Gearing up for the New Year’s weekend, we had people in and out of our office all week giving blessings, school children singing holiday carols, and the like.  On Friday, a couple of boys came in a sung a quick tune about the new year, and our staff gave them some money afterward.)

But back to Thursday…

I went home for lunch after the seminar, as I usually do since I live only about 10 minutes from work, and on my way back, something upsetting happened.  A woman walking across a crosswalk on our main street was hit by a car.  I was on the sidewalk next to where it happened, and heard the accident.  I thought it had been two cars, but when I turned around, I saw the woman lying on the pavement.  It was awful.  At the time, I was pretty shaken up.  But I wanted to share this story as a cultural observation.  I stayed close, just in case anything was needed, but a crowd had already gathered.  The women where aghast.  Several men ran out to the woman.  A passing BMW stopped, and the men picked the woman up and put here in the back of the car, and the car whisked away to the hospital.  The American in me wanted to say, no! stop! don’t move her, she could have spinal damage!, but this is a different culture and a different system, so I just watched and prayed for this poor woman.  And that’s when the yelling began.  The crowd was furious with the driver of the vehicle; the woman was in the crosswalk (or “zebra” as they say here).  A minibus (or rutiera) had stopped at the side of the road, just in front of the crosswalk.  The driver didn’t want to wait behind the rutiera, and swerved around the vehicle, and he must not have been able to see the woman coming.  The crowd slowly dispersed, and the driver waited for the polic to come. 

I started to think about the traffic here and how it’s different from the States…driving here is less…controlled.  There’s a lot of speeding, passing, and the lanes aren’t necessarily followed.  There are fewer traffic lights, and mostly in the capital.  In fact, I don’t think we have any traffic lights in our town.  The bus stops generally don’t have an outlet where they can pull over on a busy road (and the bus will stop almost anywhere when it first starts to leave the town, all you have to do is flag it down).  Our main road is wide enough in some places to be four lanes, but there aren’t really distinct lane markers.  There are several crosswalks along our main road, but no speed bumps, and some cars literally fly by at 60 mph, which is especially dangerous considering many children cross that road to get to school.  In the States, that main road would probably have a speed limit of about 35 mph.  The event certainly got me thinking.  And I plan to be even more careful when crossing that road.

But, on to a lighter story…

After work, I headed over to my host family’s house for a visit.  Their gate, which is usually open, was locked, so I rang their phone and they were very excited to hear from me, “Come in, Jennifer, come in!”  I sat in the kitchen (Take your coat off!  Have a seat!) as my host mom and sister prepared food for New Year’s (they started on Thursday for Saturday’s celebration…days of preparation usually go into holiday feasts).  We exchanged stories, I told them about my trip, I gave them chocolates from Belgium, and they asked how things are going at my new apartment (Is it warm?  What do you eat?).  They made me try every single vegetable in the salad they were making…cauliflower, carrots, sweet pepper, cucumber, onion.  Is it tasty?, they’d ask.  My host mom also told me that the two little girls keep asking why I left, and every time she tells them that it was because they made too much noise (this is not really the case, but I chuckled and smiled anyway).  She also said they tell her that she needs to keep the room where I slept the way it was, because it won’t be ready for me when I come back.

After chatting in the kitchen, I went around the side of the house and inside to the living room/bedroom area.  I opened the door where the girls sleep and said, “Fete!” which is the Romanian word for “girls.”  They both come running out, “JENN-eeee-furrr!”  And then the questions started….Jennifer, did you come from America?  Where you with Katie?  (Katie is the last volunteer that lived there.)  Jennifer, are you going to sleep here tonight?  Jennifer, can we talk to your parents and Toby?  (Toby is our dog…when I would Skype with my parents, my parents would hold the dog up to the camera, and the girls just LOVED this.  From then on, when I would Skype with someone, they’d come in and ask, “Unde Toby?” which means, “Where’s Toby?”)  And once they found out they couldn’t Skype with my dog, they ran back into the room to watch more television.

I stayed for dinner, and my host family reminded me that this is still my home, and I can come back anytime I want, even if they’re not there.  You know where the keys are!, my host mom said. 

It was quite a day.  And quite a welcome back to Moldova.

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Ialoveni!  In Ialoveni, I’m living with a big family again: a grandma/grandpa (my host mom and dad), their daughter and her husband, and their two precious daughters, who are four and six years old.  They have a big, beautiful garden with raspberries, apples, cucumbers, corn, pears, grapes, tomatoes, and a lot of other foods, some of the names I only know in Romanian because I’ve never had them in the States.

All the bedrooms are off the main entry room, and to get to the indoor kitchen/bathroom you go outside and around the house.  The kitchen and bathroom are currently under repair, so they’re just empty tiled rooms now, but my family says they will soon be finished and beautiful (or “frumos” as they say in Romanian).  I’ll post pictures then!  Right now we use the outside toilet—not sure if that’ll be different when the bathroom is done (families sometimes just use the indoor toilet in the winter…or just for #1 in the winter), but I’ll figure it out then.

The food is delicious—my host mom is a great cook.  Most of what we eat is from their garden and animals (they have chickens and ducks)…so far I’ve eaten lots of chicken, fresh cut vegetables with oil and vinegar, corn, chicken noodle soup, pasta, crepes, placinta de brinza (which I’m pretty sure literally translates to “cheese pie” in English, but it’s amazingly delicious), bread, and cereal with a yogurt-like substance.  I love eating from their garden, and they work hard to maintain it and prepare food.  I feel thankful that they’re willing to share that with me.

Work.  Work!  I’m so excited to begin.  On Saturday, Luma (the other volunteer stationed in my village) and I sat in on a meeting with a youth organization that runs an online newspaper for my town.  (One of the students is going to write a story about us—we’re kind of a big deal?)  But once we got in that meeting, ideas just started rolling and I started to make a “to-do” list of all the things I want to start studying/preparing for work.

My primary organization is the Central Regional Development Agency (adrcentru.md), which is one of three government-funded organizations under the Ministry of Regional Development formed specifically to facilitate development projects in the northern, central and southern regions of Moldova.  As I understand it now, we work to facilitate/fund development projects under the following four domains: clean water, paved roads, waste management and tourism.  I’ll be working with the strategic planning department, sharing ideas and helping to build organizational capacity.  My partner at the agency (the Moldovan who I am paired with during this work process) mentioned an upcoming agency conference, and so I think my duties will include working with their communications specialist to see if I have any new/different ideas and strategies to offer.  I think it will be a fantastic experience, and I can’t wait to learn more about how the organization operates.

Aside from that, we, as Community Organization and Development Volunteers, have the opportunity to pursue other projects.  My partner at the agency already mentioned to me that there are three students looking for an English tutor for the month of August, before they return to school in Romania, so I agreed to meet with them over the next few weeks.  I also would love to work with the youth journalism organization (IaloveniOnline.md, if you want to check it out).  Lots of opportunities – we’ll see how this goes!

Missing home as always; I feel like I experience a range of emotions over the course of just one day.  Keeping busy helps, taking walks is always good, hearing from home helps, and I’ve changed my laptop background to scrolling pictures from home.  My new host nieces also help—they randomly run into my room to give me kisses, hold my hands when they take me to the dinner table and tell me that I’m beautiful and they love me.  How can your heart not feel full after that?  =)

I’ve got my own internet access now, so anyone who wants to Skype, just shoot me a message!

UNO: Breaking cultural barriers

Uno is the new hit with my host family.  Last night, we taught my youngest host brother, Damian, how to play Uno.  Damian is 5 years old and always seems to be just bursting with energy.  He says my name a lot, but I usually can’t figure out the context.  He pronounces it “Zjenn – EE – fur”.  That said, I think he’s absolutely hilarious, and I wanted to share some of his best one-liners thus far…both during Uno and outside of the game.

  • “Vine Jennifer!” he yells when I come down the stairs.  (In Romanian, this means “Jennifer’s coming!).
  • His siblings taught him how to say “come to eat” in English.  So every night for dinner, I hear his feet running up the stairs, then he slowly peers around the door and says “Zjenn-EE-fur!  Cahm to EEEEat!”
  • During Uno, we had a blast.  Any skip card, any draw two card, he called out my name, even if I wasn’t the next player in line.  He continued to jibber-jabber, throwing my name around, and even made the comment “Jennifer, I’m going to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget!”  I laughed so hard – it was hilarious!  Then, when his mother called him downstairs for a minute, he handed his cards to his sister and said “Don’t play until I get back, understand?!”

All of that said, I’m really bonding with my host family and enjoying getting to know each one of my host brothers and sisters.  And I’m so glad I brought Uno – we’ve all enjoyed playing together.  Even Damian managed to win a round!