Random cool thing about Moldova: These windows! The same window can open from the top or from the side!! (You turn the handle in different directions to open it different ways.) 🙂
So, this one takes a little explaining. The terci de mazăre (“terch deh mah-zuh-reh”*) looks a little like mashed potatoes, but is actually made of peas! It’s a thick puree (actually denser than mashed potatoes) with a flavor similar to split-pea soup. It’s served with a thick stew of vegetables and chicken which my host mom calls sous (“sowce”*). The flavors complement each other well, and the entire thing is delicious.
Zimbet (zim-bet) means smile. It makes me smile when students greet me in the halls or stairwells, trying out their English. I hear “Hello” from giggling nervous 4th grade girls, and in deep bass voices from 12th grade boys who are taller than me. As I take a shortcut behind some apartment buildings, a girl in a bicycle sings out “Hello, Miss Teacher!” I can’t stop smiling.
I came home from the school one day this week to find my host mom in the kitchen, as I often do. She was explaining that we would eat lunch in a few minutes when I spied a homemade coffee cake on the counter behind her. That certainly hadn’t been there that morning! So I asked about it.
“Prăjitură cu mere” (“pruh-zhee-too-ruh coo mair-ray”*) she told me, apple coffee cake. “Pentru fata mea”; for my girl. My host mom, who is a diabetic, and could only eat a taste of it, had made a coffee cake just for me! She knows the first week of school is always stressful for teachers, and she is incredibly kind. By the way, the cake is delicious. At this writing there are only two slices left! 🙂
Tomatoes! Lots and lots of tomatoes! My host mom spent two whole days putting up tomatoes for the winter. Now she has tomato juice, something similar to tomato sauce, and whole canned tomatoes ready for winter. Plus lots of fresh tomatoes left for meals! And we’re not talking the semi-ripe, “artificially-degreened” tomatoes that are unfortunately all too prevalent in American supermarkets. These are luscious, deep red, vine-ripened tomatoes from her own garden. Roșii (“ro-shee “*) means tomatoes, and they are delicious! *pronunciation approximate
My host mom has the TV turned to a talent show on the Russian-language channel, so I have no idea what the storytellers and poetry-reciters are saying. But I recognize the cadence of their voice, the dramatic expressiveness of their gestures, tones and expressions, as something they have in common with Moldovan performers.
In the past week I’ve attended three different celebrations here in Cahul: Monday was Moldovan Independence Day, Thursday was a celebration of “Limba Nostra” (our language), recognizing the moment when the Republic of Moldova decided to speak Romanian rather than Russian, and Friday was the “First Bell” ceremony, when the opening of school is celebrated all over Moldova. At each of these ceremonies I’ve been privileged to witness numerous speeches of congratulations, songs, dances, skits, and poetry recitals by performers ranging from 5-year-olds to adults. One thing that has struck me is the enthusiasm and dramatic flair with which such things are delivered. Small children already know to used large arm gestures combined with fervent expressions and intense tones of voice to compliment the meaning of the piece being performed.
This provides somewhat of a contrast with more mundane interactions. Having been used to the American custom of smiling broadly at newcomers to a room, and the Ecuadorian custom of greeting everyone, friends and strangers alike; it has been somewhat of an adjustment to be greeted with solemn nods, or not at all. I’ve learned that smiling at strangers on the bus can be misinterpreted, and that most often a solemn expression, or an enigmatic half-smile is deemed appropriate for photos.
Nonetheless, I am entranced by Moldovans’ obvious love of pageantry. It no longer seems particularly unusual to see people at special occasions wearing (probably rented) traditional garb. And I love that any occasion worth celebrating is worth singing, dancing, reciting poetry, and presenting flowers! I love that everyone from small children to the Romanian Consul is invited to participate, and the tremendous variety of talents they display. I feel fortunate to be present to share in these celebrations with the people of Cahul.
September 1st marks the first day of school throughout the tiny Republic of Moldova, so my school, along with every other school in the country, celebrated on Friday with a ceremony called Primul Sunet (“Preem-ool soon-et”*), or First Bell. Early in the morning students and teachers gathered around the school courtyard. Students were dressed in their best for the occasion, and many carried flowers which they would later present to their teachers. Excitement was in the air. Teachers watched over their flocks; parents readied their cameras; sixth-grade boys poked each other and wrestled a little when their teacher wasn’t looking; teens surreptitiously checked their cell phones. Incoming first graders were gathered in a special section with their new teachers. The ceremony began with some words of welcome and the national anthem. Then the new 1st graders paraded in pairs under an arch made of rainbow-colored balloons and, were officially welcomed to the school!
The celebration that followed included songs performed by students of various ages (including three of the new first graders!), poetry recitals, and speeches by the principal, the vice-mayor and other dignitaries. We saw a skit where a clown was convinced that he should go to school, since the 1st graders in the audience knew more math than he did! A talented team of dancers performed a beautiful dance (slow and flowing, different from the other traditional dances I’ve seen lately which tend to be livelier and more bouncy), which culminated in an offering of copaci (traditional braided rings of bread) to the principal and vice-mayor. An orthodox priest offered a blessing for the school year.
Finally, the “first bell” was rung. A 12th-grade boy led a 1st-grade girl around the circle, as she loudly rang a handbell. Meanwhile, a 12th-grade girl led a 1st-grade boy (with a bell) in the opposite direction. The ringing of the bells signified the official start of the school year at this Liceu! The balloon arch was released into the sky as everyone broke into applause. Students filed inside to attend a short session with their homeroom teacher, and find out their schedules for Monday. The year was off to a great start!
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“Would you like capusniac for dinner tomorrow?” asked my host mom? She went on to explain that it was made mostly of cabbage with pork. I envisioned something like the boiled cabbage with chunks of ham that is often served in the southern U.S.A. Tonight, to my surprise and delight, I learned that capusniac (“cah-poos-nee-ahk”*) also involves tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, carrots and probably homemade secret seasoning. Yum!