Officially an RPCV

After three years of Peace Corps service in Moldova, I’m overjoyed that I am now able to join many others in the returned Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV) community. The last month of my service was full of highs and lows and bittersweet feelings. I am sure that I will still be reflecting on the past three years for a long while, fondly remembering great memories and laughing at funny and awkward stories while continuing to learn more about myself.

July was a month full of saying farewells, see you laters, and anticipating what the future holds for so many people I have gotten to know over this short (or long depending who you ask) amount of time. I hope that I will have the opportunity to visit Moldova and my host families and friends in the near future, but we will see how things unfold and what life holds. So many of them are wanting to leave Moldova to work or study abroad for the chance at better opportunities for their future.

Before leaving, I had the chance to meet up with so many great people to say farewell/see you later…

 

On Friday, July 28 I finished my Peace Corps Service by “ringing the bell” which symbolically represents the close of one’s service. Or as we call it, COS (close of service) with all the fancy acronyms we use in Peace Corps.

 

It didn’t feel real as I was also trying to complete all the final tasks and paperwork needed that same day and I still had a few days left to move out of my apartment and say some more goodbyes/see you laters before leaving and officially finishing my service on Monday, July 31.

Later the same day I rang the bell, the organization I have been working with this past year, Tekwill hosted a sweet goodbye party at the office. We had a nice evening of connecting and enjoying some traditional food and local wine as we were able to squeeze in some photos to document the memories and friendships.

 

In the last blog update, I had stated that I wasn’t going to travel home for a long while since I would be studying in Sweden for a Master’s program beginning in August. However, I decided last minute to travel home for a whirlwind quick 2-week visit. It was a wonderful time to be home, gather hugs from family and friends, and to have a chance to take a much-needed breather before heading into the next adventure.

We’ll see if I’ll be able to keep up with the blog and share updates as I begin this new chapter.

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Home for the Holidays

I made a sneaky trip home to Pennsylvania to surprise my family and some friends during this holidays season. I decided back when I had been home in August that I would try to make it home for the holidays this year. Many thanks to my amazing brother, we were able to make it possible.

It’s been great to be able to catch up face-to-face with family and spend some quality time together. I’m thankful for the time to be able to come home and fully enjoy this season since it’s been a few years .

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I was also able to make a few surprise appearances for some friends too since very few people knew.

I even made a familiar megabus quick trip to Harrisburg to surprise my college roommate. I’m a fan of the megabus and think nothing now of a 2 hour trip with comfortable seating, a bathroom on board, and free wifi. I’ll take this public transport over the public transport in Moldova any day.

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Thanks to the ninja-planning skills of my friend’s sister, we were able to spend some short, but great quality time together pampering ourselves and catching up on life. Texting every couple of days on what’s going on is great, but being able to catch up in person is much, much better. I was also able to meet up with two friends I hadn’t seen since I had left in 2013. I feel so full of happiness since I’ve been able to visit with all of these friends although for a short time, but incredibly sweet.

It’s been a good, low-key time of being home and fully enjoying being able to spend it with loved ones. I’m thankful for last minute Starbucks dates, baking with mom, playing board games, and puppy snuggles.

Next up, bringing in the 2017 new year this weekend with friends before making my way back to Moldova.

Celebrating another year…

Another year older and hopefully another year wiser. I recently celebrated my 34th birthday in Moldova this month. This being my 3rd time to celebrate while living in Moldova. This year I kept it low-key and more to myself. However, it certainly exceeded my expectations.

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Lots of flowers from dear friends here in Moldova.

I had been hoping to get away the weekend before my birthday and had the opportunity to take an overnight trip to a nearby city in Romania right over the border. It worked out amazingly well to meet up with some friends who were already there. We got to see the holiday lights and Christmas market in the center along with the recently renovated Palace and of course the popular large shopping mall that is one of the better shopping malls I have been to.

On my actual birthday, I was celebrated well by my work colleagues and dear friends. I made cupcakes for my office, of course complete with sprinkles. Started the day with sprinkles and ended the day with bubbles (champagne toast for all).

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And ate a lot of cake! My office brought in 2 cakes and then later in the evening there was more cake too! It was most certainly a sweet day!

Since my birthday fell on a Tuesday, I had celebrated in the evening with a group of friends and people that I typically see on a weekly basis for English Conversation at a local friends’ restaurant/bar. It was fun to celebrate with such an international crew.

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It was a great day and I felt well celebrated leading up to and even afterward by so many near and far. I also took some time to reflect a bit in order to answer the annual “birthday questions”

  1. What are some of your highlights from this past year? 
  2. What are you looking forward to this year? 

In honor of turning 34, I picked 4 highlights from this past year:

  1. Going home for home leave in August
  2. Traveling to San Francisco for the Technovation Master Educator program training
  3. Extending my Peace Corps service for a 3rd year
  4. Traveling to Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Nice, Rome, Prague, and Istanbul with various friends

As for what I am looking forward to in the year ahead:

  1. Traveling more!
  2. Determining next steps that answer the ever so popular question: “what are you doing after Peace Corps?”
  3. Seeing the projects I’m working on in Moldova continue to develop and hopefully flourish
  4. Continue to develop deep friendships with new and old friends near and far

Cheers to another year ahead! I’m hopeful for new adventures, much laughter, an abundance of love, and to see more bright colorful sunrises & sunsets. xoxo

New Thanksgiving traditions served with a side of deep fried turkey

This has been my third Thanksgiving away from my Central Pennsylvania family and friends at home. This year especially has felt a little different. It’s made me realize how much I appreciate such a random mix of a community that surrounds me here in this moment at this time in my life. 

On thanksgiving day, since most of us had to work as it was a normal business day, a few of us got together and quite possibly started a new tradition in celebrating this holiday from abroad. We gathered together for wine and cheese and great conversation. That time with these ladies was exactly what I needed at the time as we were all missing family and friends from home and could laugh and share stories as our paths intersected here in Moldova.

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Then on Saturday, I spent most of the day prepping food items that I had agreed to make. I spent most of the day in the kitchen as I multi-tasked making two types of sweet potatoes, deviled eggs, and a chocolate peanut butter meltaway cake. 

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I tried making this cake in two layers, which I do not recommend. The chocolate melted right off and down the sides. Hence, why it’s probably called a ‘meltaway’ cake. (no photos of the other foods though)

After prepping the foods, I managed to organize them complexly in a way to transport (walk) them to my friends’ place that is about 10 or so minutes away. I felt like it was a moment worthy of celebration since I successfully was able to get them there without dropping or breaking anything. I wish I had a photo to share, but no such luck. It was no small feat. How else does one walk a two-layer melting cake along with other food items through the city? I think I should have been an engineer… 

The guys were busy preparing the turkey in thefryer when I arrived. They had quite the setup arranged. Not to be taken lightly as we spent the night before watching videos on “how NOT to fry a turkey”. This one is worthy of a share as we watched it multiple times and the song was still in my head the next day (and even now since I’m thinking about it).

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There were between 15-20 people that were present for this thanksgiving feast. Quite the mix of expats and Moldovans. It was a great group to celebrate with and the food was delicious and there was plenty of it left over by the end of the evening.

Although I thought I would be home by this time celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends, I am so grateful that this is how I was able to celebrate this year.  Being surrounded by this new community of old and new friends as Moldova intersects us together in a common thread.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Celebrating with balloons, bubbles, and babies

During my 2 years of Peace Corps service in Balti, I lived with a host family during that whole time. I got to know them pretty well to the point that it feels as though I have become part of the family. Which sometimes is hard to wrap my head around because our common language is Romanian since they don’t speak English. I recently visited them for a weekend  to celebrate my host nephew’s 2nd birthday. I’ve had the privilege to see this little guy grow up before my eyes.

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It was a full weekend of celebrating — I helped prepare some traditional foods for the occasion.

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And then on Sunday, there was a big party at a local children’s restaurant complete with a play-area, bright colors, and a kid-friendly atmosphere (and screaming children). My host nephew was beyond himself happy with all the fun surrounding him.

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Mickey and Minnie also showed up for the special occasion complete with games and activities for the kids.

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My favorite part of the celebration was when Mickey pulled out the bubbles and the kids and even the adults were mesmerized by the human sized ones.

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It certainly captured the attention of my host nephew…

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The table was generously spread out full of food and drinks for all the guests.

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Then since the little guy loves cars, the afternoon was wrapped up with a car-themed cake and some random life-sized characters.

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Happy birthday, little guy!

An Eventful October

The month of October was full of various events and celebrations. To start it all off, we celebrated with Moldova’s big wine celebration that is the first weekend of October each year. On Saturday, I met up with some friends in the center as we enjoyed the festivities and sampling different Moldova wines. This year I didn’t get any photos as I was too busy having fun.

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Photo credit: Wine of Moldova

On Sunday, a few friends and I went to a local winery not far from Chisinau. We had a fabulous time enjoying the surroundings at Asconi Winery and trying their wines. Again, not many photos except from this fabulous traditional meal we enjoyed outside on their terrace. It was a perfect day for such an adventure.

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Our meal from Asconi Winery outside on the terrace.

A few weeks later the capital city of Chisinau celebrated it’s city day, known as hram. Most people have off from work as the city center main street is shut down and festivities stretch from one end to the other. Big and small stages were scattered along the main street as food vendors and merchandise vendors lined both sides of the street. There were so many people who came out for this celebration it was hard to make it through the streets.

Also, throughout the month I had attended a number of local events that related to the tech industry in Moldova and English learning opportunities for local Moldovans.

As Peace Corps Volunteers we were invited to a luncheon at the US Ambassador’s home this past month. It was a nice afternoon where we were treated to some foods many of us have been missing and a great opportunity to reconnect with one another outside of projects and the Peace Corps lounge.

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The US Ambassador (center front) with most of the Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova and some staff members.

I was also able to make it for a quick weekend visit to Balti and see my host family and some friends. It had felt like I hadn’t been there in a year but it was only about a month since the last time I was there.

Then, to round out the month of October, I celebrated Halloween with some friends at a local restaurant/bar. A friend and I made matching last minute costumes within a few hours of the party. We went as winter (which is scary in October, right?)  but then realized there was a winter/Christmas character that many locals identified us as, which I think they referred to as Snegurochka. Fun times.

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Winter is coming…

October was quite eventful and November is looking to be just as full as well. It’s hard to believe the end of 2016 is around the corner. It’s going to be an interesting next couple of weeks as both the US and Moldova select their next president.

Going to a Traditional Moldovan Wedding – {part 1}

Upon my return to Moldova, within 3 days I was attending a friends wedding. This was the 2nd time I’ve had the chance to attend a wedding during my time as a volunteer in Moldova. I even had the opportunity to take part in the traditional festivities that happen before the big reception later in the day.

Some fun facts about Moldovan weddings:

  •  Sometimes couples will get married either in the church and/or legally at the mayor’s office and then celebrate with the large reception a year or so later (after saving money to host the party);
  •  It is tradition to have nanasi [nan-ash-i], best described as marriage godparents (or spiritual parents) to help the couple when issues arise in their marriage – the nanasi play a big role during the wedding celebration;
  • There is a wedding “season” in Moldova, typically weddings are not held during post (fasting due to religious holidays) but more so in the fall around wine making season;
  •  When attending a wedding, it is expected to bring flowers (although, a new trend is to bring a book for the couple) along with money and a gift;
  • Moldovan weddings are full of traditions — from the food, to the music, and dancing and beyond..
On the day of the wedding, about mid-day, I made my way to the brides family home where all the ladies were getting their hair and makeup done.
After a few hours, they were ready to go and were waiting on the groom and his friends to arrive. After some honking of horns and yelling, the men had arrived and they had to go through some traditions before finding the bride.
After the groom and his friends completed all the necessary traditional activities the groom was able to see his bride…and we all toasted to the start of the festivities while they took photos.
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Next, all the young people piled into decorated cars to make their way to the nanasi’s home. Once arrived, we made a scene going into their apartment where they hosted us for champagne toasts and treats.
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Next we all piled back into the cars and went to the city center to the casa nunta – wedding house where they signed the papers to make it official by the state that they are married.
After that I went with my friend to the wedding hall where the reception was being held so they could prep for the 100+ people who were coming to the big party.
It was impressive with all the decor, abundance of food, and the fancy setup.
There were many traditions that were new for me so I spent a lot of the time confused throughout the wedding. I’ll share more in the next post on these traditions from the wedding – stay tuned!