Posted in Culture, Peace Corps, school

International Friendships

“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?”

ValerieQuestions 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!

“What do y’all think about our accent?”

On alternate weeks, between conversations with the high-schoolers, club members have opportunities to interview English-speaking women about their jobs.

General Cathy
Interviewing the General

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.

Posted in celebrations, Culture, Peace Corps


Butterfly marțisor I gave my partner.

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.

My host mom gave me this one!

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:

My Romanian teacher and my site-mate wearing marțișoare they received today.

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: 

A display of many marțișoare made by the elementary school students at my school.

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!

Giant Marțișor in the shopping center.

Meanwhile, outside it continues to snow.  I guess the marțișoare will help us keep Spring in our hearts, whatever the weather!

*approximate pronunciation: “mar-tsee-shore”  plural “mar-tsee-shwa-ray”

Posted in celebrations, Culture, Food, Peace Corps

La Mulți Ani (Happy Birthday!)

This is what the table looked like before we sat down to eat. Believe it or not, this is only PART of the meal.

How do you celebrate your birthday?  With a cake?  Maybe some presents?  If you are in Moldova, chances are you invite folks to visit you, and probably a lot of food is involved.  If you are Anastasia, my host mom’s beloved granddaughter, and you are visiting your grandmother who loves to cook, everyone is in for a treat!  On Sunday, February 4th, about 15 people gathered and spent at least 4 hours enjoying massive amounts of delicious food at a traditional Moldovan masa. Preparations for this wondrous repast began on Friday night, when a friend came to help Sasha prepare kurnice (kind of like chicken pies) and sarmale (little cabbage rolls), and continued all day Saturday when Sasha’s daughter joined the work force.  Here are a few events I managed to photograph: (Click for larger pictures or mouse-over for captions. Post continues below)

There are many other things I wish I could have captured:

  • The first several people to arrive were more comfortable conversing amongst themselves in  Russian, but made room for me in their circle, and kindly attempted to include me in the small-talk.  Sasha made a point of asking everyone to please speak Romanian so that Valerie can understand.
  • Jokes.  They must have been jokes, although they were in Russian, and I couldn’t understand a bit, because everyone laughed so hard!  Three jovial men were the main protagonists, and I wish I had a photo of their mischievous, gray-haired faces suffused with mirth as they  rocked with laughter!
  • A young man, also named Sasha* was in charge of pouring wine at our end of the table.  I wish I had a picture of his face when I asked him to add a little champagne to a glass already mostly full of peach juice.  Evidently combining these elements just isn’t done.
  • Maria, my host mom’s oldest sister, who is a retired English teacher and who repeatedly translated her husband’s (Russia) anecdotes into Romanian for me.  I also noticed her translating in the other direction occasionally.
  • The REST of the food!  After we grazed on the great variety of food set out on the table (see picture above), we were served quail and potatoes with pickled watermelon and tomatoes, then sarmale, then layered jello with fruit, then chocolate cake with coffee.
  • The cat, who couldn’t decide whether to play with people’s toes, beg for food, or run and hide from all the commotion!

*Note for fellow language nerds: “Sasha” can be a nickname for “Alexandra” or for “Alexander,” which is why I was sharing a meal with both a feminine and a masculine Sasha.

Food Friday: Răcitura

racituraSomeone mentioned that every time I write about food, I say it’s delicious.  And it is true that I love 95% of the food that I’ve discovered here in Moldova.  But today, just to be different, I’m sharing something I don’t actually care for.  Răcitura,*  a very traditional Moldovan dish, is commonly referred to among volunteers as “that meat jelly stuff.”  It’s a clear broth, the consistency of Jell-O.  It contains bits of meat (usually pork) often colorful vegetables and occasionally hard-boiled eggs, and is usually quite beautiful to look at.  It tastes like broth-flavored Jell-O, more or less.  Many people love it, but unfortunately I am not among their number.

*approximate pronunciation: “Ruh-chee-tour-ah”

Also, yeah, I know it’s not Friday any more.  Too bad!  🙂


Posted in celebrations, Culture, Language

Word Wednesday: Pomeni

This week’s word is a little sad.  Wednesday was the 4th anniversary of my mother’s death.  Here in Moldova, there is a custom of celebrating that day with a toast commemorating the dear departed.  To give such a toast is to pomeni.  So I bought a bottle of wine, and my host mom and I shared a toast and a few words about what a special person my mom was, and how much I miss her.   In this picture you can see how beautiful she was in her youth:

Vada May
Rest in Peace, Vada May, we love you!

Comical side note: we didn’t have a proper corkscrew to open the wine, just the one in my Swiss army knife, and neither of us could pull hard enough to get the cork out!  So we ended up toasting with Sasha’s delicious homemade wine instead!

*approximate pronunciation “poh-men-ee”

Posted in celebrations, Culture, Peace Corps, People

Mihai Eminesc-who?

Can you name a famous person whose birthday was celebrated last Monday on January 15th?  If you’re in Moldova, probably the first person who comes to mind is Mihai Eminescu (“Mee-high Yem-een-es-kyoo”).*  Eminescu one of the most famous and influential poets ever to write in the Romanian language.  He’s extremely well known in Romania and Moldova; his portrait is seen everywhere from schoolroom walls, to the church lawn, and even on Romania’s money!  Since the school where I work is one of many Moldovan schools named after him, there were a variety of special activities during the school day on Monday.  Each grade level had special activities planned, including this Eminescu Trivia Challenge for the 9th grade:

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And the day ended with a performance in the school auditorium featuring song, dance, poetry, and skits, all performed by the students! Here is about a minute of it for you to enjoy.  See if you can catch the poet’s name near the end!

*Approximate Pronunciation


Posted in celebrations, Culture, People

Word Wednesday: Surori

Sisters, Sisters, there were never such devoted sisters…

The words from this classic song played in my head as I watched my host mom and her sister together.  As the family celebration of “Old Christmas” started to wind down, the two of them curled up together on the dinette bench for a chat.  Passing one pair of reading glasses back and forth, they looked at photos in each other’s cell phones, reminisced about “the good old days” and caught up on what everyone and their kids were up to lately.  As some family members slowly drifted toward the door and began looking for their coats, the sisters shared an orange, stretching the party out as long as possible.

That’s my host mom, Sasha in the red, and her oldest sister “Katusha” (probably her nickname) in the blue. You can tell they’re enjoying each other’s company!

(I should note that they have one other sister, Maria, equally close, who just didn’t happen to be on hand for this particular celebration).

Posted in celebrations, Culture, Peace Corps, People

Dancing Goats and Fireworks

Uratori ringing a bell and reciting poetry. They have bags for all the loot they will collect!

Urători!  Come see!” My Romanian tutor Lucia, her young son and her sister-in-law rushed me to the door.  It was “Old” New Years Eve, and her family had graciously invited me to their village to enjoy the festivities. Sure enough, at the door were several young people.  One was strenuously ringing a bell, while each in turn recited a long poem, wishing us well for the new year.  When all of them had finished, the gospodina (housewife) of the house presented each of them with cookies or a colac bread, sweets, and….. MONEY!

A group of urători receiving their reward

Although the calendar read January 13th, this night was New Year’s Eve by the old (Julian) calendar still followed by the Orthodox church.  Here in Moldova, some villages welcome the new year on December 31st, and others on the more traditional January 13th.  Last Saturday night, I was fortunate to have been invited to enjoy the latter.

Throughout the evening, many other groups of urători came to the door, as well as colindători, who came singing carols.  In between, we enjoyed a bountiful feast, complete with homemade wine, and I had a lot of fun playing with a precious little boy and girl who spoke to me in (respectively) Romanian  and Russian.

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Dancing in a goat costume while others are chanting!

A highlight of the evening was one group of urători that included a dancing goat.  Apparently the tradition includes trying to grab a piece of tinsel from the goat costume, to ensure good luck in the coming year.

As midnight approached, the little ones fell asleep one by one, until only the oldest (5 whole years old!) was left awake.  Finally the magic hour arrived, and we went outside to enjoy a fireworks display provided by Lucia’s brother, then saluted the “new” year with champagne and cake.

Posted in celebrations, Culture, Peace Corps

Old Christmas? New Christmas?

Trimming the tree
Decorating our Christmas tree, back in December. Decorations are still up all over Cahul.

What’s the date of Christmas?  Is it December 25th or January 7th?  For many people in Moldova, the answer is “both”!  You see, the Orthodox church uses the Julian Calendar (established by Julius Caesar in 45 BC) rather than the more recent Gregorian Calendar (introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582) that most of us are used to.  There is a 13 day difference between the calendars, which means that Christmas falls on what we now know as January 7th.  My host mom refers to January 7th as Old Christmas and December 25th as New Christmas.  She says that in her childhood everyone celebrated Old Christmas, and no one knew of anything else.  Later, as people started to visit and live in other European countries, they brought the “new” tradition here as well.

My host mom, Sasha, dressed for the festivities, puts the final touches on the wonderful meal she has prepared.

So I asked around. Which one do people celebrate in Moldova?  I’ve heard that villages closer to Romania probably celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25th, while those with a large Russian population might celebrate on Jan. 7th.  But here in town, I was told, some people celebrate Old Christmas, some people celebrate New Christmas, and people who really like to party… celebrate both!

While I was excited to spend “new” Christmas at home with my American family this year, I was also very happy to be part of a Moldovan celebration of Old Christmas, on Sunday Jan. 7th.  Family members came to visit, and Sasha spent days preparing lots of special dishes for the holiday masa. I enjoyed the family time around the table with Sasha’s daughter, son-in-law, sister, brother-in-law and nieces.

Shortly after their arrival, I noticed Liliana and Angelica (the nieces) preparing a packet that included a colac (torus-shaped woven bread), various fruit, cookies and candy, and a lighted candle.  With some words of congratulations and appreciation, they solemnly presented it to Sasha, along with wrapped gifts.  She reciprocated in kind.  I learned later that this is traditional between godparents and godchildren on Christmas.

The family sat around the table for a long time, enjoying delicious food and (most of all) each others’ company.  The last bit of food brought out was a box of chocolates, and I was able to add a few Hershey’s kisses so everyone there could have a taste of chocolate from America.  So next year on January 7th, remember to greet all your friends with “Craciun Fericit!*” (Merry Christmas!) from Moldova.

*Approximate Pronunciation: “Crah-choon  Fair-ee-cheet”

Posted in celebrations, Culture, Peace Corps


Last Tuesday our town celebrated Hram.  What is hram?  Well it tends to be translated as “Village Day”, “Town Day”, or “City Day”.  Once a year, each town or village takes a day to celebrate its existence!  The date for each place coincides with the saint’s day for the patron saint of the town’s largest church.  (Our church is named for the archangels Michael and Gabriel).  Here is a glimpse of this year’s Hramului Cahul.

Click for larger pictures, or mouse-over to see (lovely informative) captions.  

Bonus!  Here’s a 28-second snippet from the ceremony blessing the town: