A scant four days after moving here to my permanent site, yesterday was my birthday! Having read up on Moldovan customs and consulted with a nearby PCV, I knew I was supposed to provide treats for my family, so I set off some time after breakfast in search of cake and champagne. I discovered that 1) the market area in downtown Cahul is really hopping on Sundays! 2) there is a really fancy and expensive bakery and 3) there are not-so-fancy but perfectly nice cakes at the grocery store across the street. Which also sells champagne (okay, it was made in Moldova, so technically it’s sparkling wine, but everyone calls it champagne).
When I brought out my grocery-store cake and fake champagne, there was a huge bustle to find the appropriate lovely china plates and beautiful cut-glass wineglasses. I opened a “champagne” bottle for the first time in my life, and my health and success were toasted. Then it transpired that my host family (who had known me for 3.5 days) had gifts! I was serenaded with La Mulți Ani (the Moldovan birthday song), and we all enjoyed the cake. I am touched by the kindness of these people and their efforts to make my birthday memorable.
But that’s not all… as we were eating dinner that night, suddenly about six new people arrived, who all turned out to be relatives (I never did really get straight who was who). More chairs and tables appeared, as well as a lot more food: fried fish, pickled fish, chicken-pie thingies, tomatoes, apple placinte, vegetables, brânză, two kinds of wine, mamaliga, beef, bread, baked peppers, etc. It turned out to be a farewell party for the granddaughter, Anastasia, who was leaving in the morning to return to her university in Moscow.
So, ten people at the table, speaking very fast Romanian mixed liberally with Russian, talking on top of each other. I try hard but I can’t follow a lot of what’s being said. At least once Anastasia looks at me, smiles and shakes her head, knowing I can’t unscramble the mix of languages flowing around me. A couple of times someone (usually the nice dark-haired lady. Angela? Angelica?) asks me a question and everyone stops to listen to my fumbling answers. Yes, I have family in the states. Of course I miss them, but I’m excited for the new experiences here. I’ve only studied Romanian for 10 weeks. I’m here for two years, helping with English at the school. There are 51 other volunteers all over Moldova. I don’t really know what the COD volunteers do, but here are a few examples. Yes, I’ll stay here in the summer, when the school is closed.
One of the guests passes around her cell phone with pictures of her new black cat, whose name is Obama. Everyone looks at me out of the corner of their eyes to see how I take this little joke. As people start to pick at the food, chocolates are brought out, and coffee is offered. People drift away from the table, and I am surprised by how tiring it has been to listen attentively to strangers in a language I barely know. A truly amazing birthday from start to finish.