“Do you have cheerleaders, like in the movies? Can you show us a cheer?”
“Does your family really make wine at home? How old are you when they let you drink some?”
Questions such as these can be heard in Doamna Ecaterina’s room on Thursday afternoons at the meetings of the International VideoChat club. Every other Thursday, Moldovan teens meet to converse with a group of high-school students in Alabama over Skype.
Some highlights: students from Cahul explained and displayed pictures of sarmale, placintă, and mămăliga, while the Americans described southern-style biscuits, grits and fried chicken. Although both groups are predominantly Christian, both “Orthodox” and “Baptist” required further explanation. Moldovan students sang “Eroina Mea”. Alabaman teens demonstrated their favorite dance moves. My favorite moment so far has been the two groups singing Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” in unison… on opposite sides of the world! The teens are learning fascinating and unique things about each other’s culture, but also that they have many things in common!
On alternate weeks, between conversations with the high-schoolers, club members have opportunities to interview English-speaking women about their jobs.
They’ve spoken with a software engineer, a lawyer, and a retired general so far. While these passionate, dedicated women answered questions about their jobs and their lives, the teens have developed interview skills, but also heard a lot of wonderful advice about education, employment, and life!
Peace Corps’ mission is to promote world peace and friendship. I think an awesome way to do that is through personal connections. Showing off dance moves. Swapping recipes. Listening to stories about someone’s life. Sharing a song.
“It’s really icy out today,” another volunteer told me one day recently. It occurred to me that until this segment of my life, I didn’t even know that “icy” was a type of weather you could experience. This morning, it was very icy out. Coming out of my house, the paved courtyard was coated with a very thin, very slippery layer of ice. I hope Sasha doesn’t try to go outside at all until it melts. Walking to school was an adventure. Absolutely everything is coated in a super-slippery layer of ice. Ice on pavement, ice over yesterday’s snow. Ice over slush, ice over puddles. Under one tree, ice over a bunch of leaves. Every surface underfoot is treacherous and slippery.
I passed teenaged guys walking carefully, heads down, concentrating on each step, and couples holding hands to keep each other from falling. Numerous parents were walking their little ones to school, holding their hands, and pulling them up as they slipped. I passed a group of 5 or 6 third graders laughing and slipping and falling and laughing some more. A family group, Mom, Dad and little one were walking hand-in-hand. The little one laughed and giggled as his feet slipped out from under him. Mom laughed along while dad grimly steered the group to the least slippery areas. I have never been more thankful for my Yak Trax!
At the faculty meeting the Monday before spring break, the principal announced that that Thursday would be a short day so that the students could clean the campus. Evidently this is a springtime tradition. So on the Thursday before spring break, each class was 15 minutes shorter, and breaks were cut in half, so that everyone could get to work. Here are a few of the sights I saw that afternoon:
In 100 words, write about a tradition in Moldova you would like a foreigner to learn about.
These were the words of a homework assignment in the 8th Grade English textbook recently. The class had studied celebrations in English-speaking countries and now it was time to share what they knew about their own celebrations (while practicing English, of course!) “Hmmm….” I said to my partner teacher, “What if we give them the opportunity to really share their thoughts with foreigners?” So here we have, especially for my “foreign” readers, some fascinating Moldovan traditions, as described by three outstanding 8th grade students, in their own words:
Although Spring paid us a brief visit on Friday and Saturday (with temperatures in the 60s we were enjoying short sleeves!), I guess that Winter kicked her out again on Sunday. It started snowing Sunday afternoon, and sub-freezing temperatures are predicted all this week. Today it has snowed steadily all day. (The video above is our courtyard and garden right now.) In the capital they are mobilizing special weather-fighting squads to keep the roads clear and in the north the accumulations are even greater than here in the south. I guess we have to wait a little bit longer for Spring, after all.
Yesterday was the first of March. Here in Moldova, this is the day when folks say goodbye to winter and greet the spring. One way to do this is by exchanging little red-and-white pins called Marțișoare* (singular marțișor) with friends.
As you can see, they take many forms, but the common theme is red and white intertwined cords, and usually a red and a white tassel. Small broaches are exchanged by friends, and larger versions are used as decorations. The most commonly heard legend behind the tradition goes something like this:
Once in a fight with the winter witch, who didn’t want to give up her place, the beautiful lady Spring cut her finger and few drops of her blood the first spring snowdrop poking its head up through the snow. The snowdrop charmed the winter witch and in this way Spring conquered Winter. Source: http://www.Moldova.org
So the red dangles represent the red and white snowdrop flowers that grew in the story. A short version of the red-and-white theme might be: “Goodbye white Winter, hello vibrant, living Spring!”
I felt very loved yesterday, as I received FIVE marțișoare from my partner, my host mom, the school director, the ladies in my Adult English class, and another volunteer!
Meanwhile, outside it continues to snow. I guess the marțișoare will help us keep Spring in our hearts, whatever the weather!
What if we could get kids excited about English? This was my thought when one of the 5th grade homeroom teachers approached my partner and I about homework help in English for her class. My partner, being very awesome, but also extremely busy, asked if I could help them out. To tell the truth, I’ve missed working with kids, since my background is in primary education and I only have a few classes with them now, so I gladly said yes, but asked if we could expand it to include all of the interested 5th graders. And our Cerc de Engleza* (English Circle) was born.
Each Wednesday we meet for 45 minutes after school have fun practicing grammar. Yeah, you read that right. The idea is to take whatever grammar point (or sometimes vocabulary) they have been working with in class and find engaging games and activities to practice that point. For example, the photos on this page show a team game of Online Hangman to review the names of animals, and a board game to practice irregular past tense verbs. As you can see in the photos, it’s working! The kids love it! And I look forward every week to “playing” with them! 😉
“I can’t heaaarrr you!”
Board games for irregular past tense verbs.
*approximate pronunciation: “cherck day en-glay-zah”
Murături* can be roughly translated as “pickled things!” Here we have harbuz marinat (pickled watermelon) cerii marinate (pickled cherry tomatoes) and roșii verzi murate (pickled green tomatoes). Everything has been prepared with home-grown seasonings, including bay leaves, and in the case of the green tomatoes, garlic, dill, grape leaves and horseradish leaves. The pickled watermelon in particular was a pleasant surprise. A nice blend of sweet and sour. Some people eat the rind and all!
As I may have mentioned, I am fortunate to live in a town where there are other American volunteers. Occasionally I get to spend time with the lovely ladies in this picture, two of whom are fellow Peace Corps volunteers, one in Health Education and the other in Community and Organizational Development. The third is a Fullbright English Teaching Assistant, serving for 9 months at the local University. About a week ago, we finally had a chance to carry out our “secret snowflake” gift exchange (which was supposed to happen before Christmas) and a lovely time was had by all! I’m not sure whether the best cadouri* (gifts) are the items we exchanged, or the people I spent the afternoon with!