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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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!

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.



No, this is not a reference to the Spielberg movie.  In Peace Corps, “ET” stands for “early termination.”  And sadly, that’s what a few friends have decided to do this month.

There are many things about this experience that are hard.  One of them is watching other volunteers leave early.  There are so many reasons for this…health issues, work barriers, issues at site, plans for the future, people left at home, or some combination of all of those factors.  It happens.  And it’s not failure.  It’s just that person deciding what is right for them at the given moment.  And that’s okay.  Things change.  We start to see life differently.  Unexpected hardships come up.  That said, it’s not always easy to watch your friends go.

Over time, we’ve built close relationships with our fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.  We are each other’s support system.  All of us, on some level, understand what the others are going through.  We know Moldova in a way that most people in the world do not.  We know the challenges of being a volunteer, the joys, the casual way in which we openly discuss our bowel movements, and the secret Peace Corps lingo comprised of enough acronyms to fill a few wine barrels.  We’ve lived this life together for more than a year now, through the ups and downs that Peace Corps service inevitably brings.

So that’s what’s on my mind today.  The people I have to say goodbye to earlier than expected.  Oh how I will miss them.

We have a puppy

Yes, we finally caved.

My roommate came home this week with a furry friend in his hand.  Can we keep it?

How could I say no to that little face?

He found him wandering around the road as was afraid he was going to walk into traffic.  So we’re going to try this whole “pet” thing out.  My roommate took him to the vet, got him some food, and now we’re working on the fun stuff.  Potty training.  Oh, and we need a name.  There are a few in the running…

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On a related note, one of the neighborhood dogs had a litter of puppies recently.  They’re pretty cute, too.

My host niece turns “șapte”

“Șapte” is the word for “seven.”

Last Thursday I stopped by my host family’s house for a visit.  It was my host niece’s 7th (Viviana) birthday.  It had been awhile since I had seen them, and we had many stories to exchange.

As I walked up the dirt road to their gate, my younger host niece (Sorina) spotted me, froze, and then dashed in my direction saying “Jenn-EE-furrrr!”  I kneeled down for a big hug.  Those two girls that I lived with, Viviana and Sorina, have the biggest, most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.  Adorable.  Their younger cousin, Ionel, has the same big eyes.  He, too, was standing outside waiting for us to begin our feast for Viviana’s birthday.

I stayed and chatted, we ate lots of food, drank champagne and cognac, toasted and gave gifts to Viviana, and ended with a beautiful cake and a happy birthday song.  They had Viviana blow her candles out, and then she sat on a chair as they hoisted her up in the air seven times, one for each year.  It was a good time.

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