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.