Celebrating Paști in Moldova

“Paste Ferecit” (Happy Easter!) from Moldova! We celebrated Orthodox Easter today in Moldova. This is my 2nd Easter here and continues to be my most favorite holiday celebrated in Moldova.

Leading up to Easter Sunday, people spend the week preparing food and cleaning their homes. I was able to help my host mom a little bit with some of the food preparations and learned a few new things as well.

On Saturday I went out on an adventure to the city center piata to find and purchase “pasca”,  a special Easter bread sold at this time of year. I quickly learned there are various types, sizes, and flavors of pasca, making my seemingly easy task a little more challenging. Plus, the vendors I tried to talk with only spoke Russian and we played a great game of charades between Romanian and Russian so I could successfully come home with some pasca bread.

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Special pasca Easter bread sold outside by a vendor in the city center.

Then, Easter morning my host dad and I woke up at 5:00 AM to make our way to the Orthodox church in the city center.

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St. Nicholai church in the city center, about a 15 minute walk from our home.

We got in line with everyone else and my host dad arranged the basket of food on the ground so that the priest would come by and bless it. While he did that, I made my way into the church to place a candle in the church and to return with a lit candle. The fire from the candles originated from Jerusalem, which we later carried home with us to keep it going in the apartment.

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After the basket of food was displayed with the lit candles, we waited for the priest to come and bless it.

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We waited along with everyone else in the quietness of the morning as the sun was bursting through the sky to start the day.

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Then, shortly after that, the priest came by and doused us and the display of food with holy water. Before doing so, money is placed in the bag that the first guy is holding while the second guy holds the bucket of holy water for the priest as he blesses each person in line with a generous amount of holy water.

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He caught me by surprise and even “blessed” my cell phone in the process. My host dad and I had a good laugh about it all.

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My host dad after being blessed by the priest.

After that, we packed up our basket of food and returned home to have the first meal of the day. But we couldn’t eat until we took part in the annual Easter cultural traditions. First stepping on the knife in the doorway before entering the rest of the way into the home. Next, we each washed our hands in the basin then rubbed a red egg on our cheeks followed by some coins which we rubbed on our foreheads. Then we each put the coins into our pockets for good luck and lots of money for the year ahead.

Then we sat down around 6:00 AM to have our fist meal of the day starting off with traditional red hard boiled eggs. We each took turns initially cracking each other’s egg to see which one would not crack in the end. The person’s egg whose doesn’t crack is the “winner” – my host mom won this year.

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We sat down to first eat the foods that had been blessed at the church along with some of the food that had been prepared the day before. We also started drinking cognac and wine in celebration of the Easter holiday.  So. much. food.

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Just some of the food from our Easter breakfast.

After eating, we all went back to bed to wake up to repeat the eating, drinking, and sleeping at least 2 more times.

The celebrations will continue into tomorrow as most people have the day off work and into the weekend following celebrating memorial Easter.

 

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More coding fun during #codeweek in Moldova

Europe Code week was this past week starting on October 10 and ending today, October 18. Countries all over Europe hosted events during this period of time to introduce coding by engaging people in learning something new and exploring how code works.

I had learned about Code Week during the Girls Go IT camp this summer and thought it could be something we could do in Balti, the city I live & serve in (which happens to be the 2nd largest city in Moldova). After sharing it with a professor at the University here in Balti, we worked on the details, logistics, and he found the contacts to present 5 different topics for code week. (The surprise was on me when I discovered I was one of them!)

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I shared the first session about basic HTML to a room of 40 students (and we only had 30 computers).

So why code week? Why learn to code? As quoted from the Europe Code Week website:

“Today we live in a world that has been affected by rapid advances in technology. The way we work, communicate, shop and think has changed dramatically. In order to cope with these rapid changes and to make sense of the world around us, we need to not only develop our understanding of how technology works, but also develop skills and capabilities, that will help us to adapt to living in this new era.

Learning to code helps us to make sense of how things work, explore ideas and make things, for both work and play. What’s more it helps us to unleash our creativity and work collaboratively with wonderful people both near us and all over the world.”

Students helping one another during one of the code week sessions.
Students helping one another during one of the code week sessions.

I was impressed. The week went incredibly well, way beyond my expectations. Even though all of the presentations were in Russian (except for mine) I can say I learned a few new things. Those who attended were both high school and University students and they really enjoyed it. Many of them came each day to continue to learn. The topics that were covered at the Balti code week location were HTML, CSS, Angular JS, OLE Technology, and Git. Some of the students shared that they would like to continue to do more sessions like this in the future. So, we shall see what is possible!

Random, fun happenings from the month of April

Today marks my 11th month of being here in Moldova!? It’s hard to believe that in one more month we will have been here for one year! How is that possible!? Just like the 10 months before April, this past month also flew by at rapid time-warp speed.

As I had shared in previous blog posts, the month of April was full of many celebrations. We basically celebrated for 3 weeks between Easter in the US, Easter here in Moldova, and Memorial Easter. I think my favorite holiday that is celebrated here in Moldova is definitely Easter.

Now for a recap of additional happenings from this past month…

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Each week I meet with about 4 young kids for our conversation English club where we meet at the American Corner in Balti. We talk about different topics and I introduce new words, phrases, and share American culture with them. On this day we were talking about spring and the pronunciation difference between bug, bag, and book.
On occasion my host dad will prepare breakfast for me. This is usually what I am welcomed by as I walk into the kitchen as he tells me he made me a
On occasion my host dad will prepare breakfast for me. This is usually what I am welcomed by as I walk into the kitchen as he tells me he made me a “surprise” — definitely a great way to start the day. I think you’d be smiling too if you just ate smiling breakfast.
One of my sitemates and I made a quick day-trip to visit another volunteer friend at his site in Drochia which is about an hour away.
One of my sitemates and I made a quick day-trip to visit another volunteer friend at his site in Drochia which is about an hour away. Every village, town, and city has some sort of sign like this welcoming you to their community.
This is the beautiful Orthodox church located in Drochia -- you can tell from the dark clouds in the sky that it was a bit of a rainy, overcast day.
This is the beautiful Orthodox church located in Drochia — you can tell from the dark clouds in the sky that it was a bit of a rainy, overcast day.
This inspiring crew of Peace Corps volunteers ran in either the 10K or half marathon one weekend in Chisinau. I haven't been running in months so maybe next year.
This inspiring crew of Peace Corps volunteers ran in either the 10K or half marathon one weekend in Chisinau. I haven’t been running in months…. so maybe next year?
My friend Katie and I had a little adventure in Chisinau one weekend as we did some exploring and found some new items to wear this summer.
My friend Katie and I had a little adventure in Chisinau one weekend as we did some exploring and found some new items to wear this summer.
Spring is blooming all over the city - just this past week the lilac trees started blooming. They are beautiful. One day when I came home, I found a recycled vodka bottle with a branch of these fragrant lilacs sitting waiting for me at my bedroom door thanks to my host dad.
Spring is blooming all over the city – just this past week the lilac trees started blooming. They are beautiful. One day when I came home, I found a recycled vodka bottle with a branch of these fragrant lilacs sitting waiting for me at my bedroom door thanks to my host dad.

Also, other happenings from the month of April — my Technovation Challenge team submitted their project! More will come later on all of that… soon!

The Easter holiday continues with Memorial Easter

Memorial Easter known as Paştele Blajinilor was celebrated this past weekend. One week after Easter, families go to the cemetery with food and wine to remember those who have passed away. They gather with friends and family to honor their loved ones. In the cemeteries there are a number of benches and small tables where people share food and wine with one another.

They may take flowers to decorate the grave-site, but they must be in even numbers. Individual arrangements are laid at each grave-site of colac (braided bread) and other items like candy or an egg. They also have additional bread arrangements where they exchange with others as they visit and share wine.

After decorating the graves, small cans of incense are lit and the priest with his attendants will come along to give a blessing. As the priest chants the blessing, he will pour a dash of wine alongside the grave. The family gives him money and an arrangement of bread which is placed into a large basket carried by one of the attendants. The priest will move along to each site until they all have been visited.

Afterwards they will eat and drink together at the cemetery and then continue the celebration at home.

I was not able to take part in Memorial Easter this year since my host family went to Ukraine for the holiday. But of course we celebrated when they returned home with all the leftover food and had a large meal (masa) together. 🙂

The continuation of Easter celebrations in Moldova

The celebrations continued for me the next two days after we celebrated Easter on April 12th here in Moldova. The Monday after Easter was a holiday and most businesses were closed for the day so people could continue to celebrate the holiday with their families.

It was an amazingly beautiful day here on Monday and my host family decided to take the whole family out to their village house, which they call “the villa”. We packed up some food and I grabbed my camera and we all piled into the car for our adventure together at the villa.

The video below is a short clip from the drive out to the village… you’ll notice flat fields and a bumpy road. We were certainly not in Balti anymore.

First we had to make a stop along the way at their friend’s house, where she looks after their rabbits and pigs. So I got to see where some of the meat I have been eating comes from. We said hello to both the pigs and the rabbits (of all sizes)…

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…and then we were invited inside where she had prepared a masa for us.  She wasn’t all that pleased with the pace in which I ate my food, as she kept yelling “Sara, mânca! Sara, mânca!” (Sara. eat! Sara, eat!) Of course she poured me a bottomless cups of house wine which she also did not approve in the way I took my time in drinking it. Upon leaving, she packed me a small bag of candies and hard boiled eggs… because I apparently hadn’t eaten enough.

The celebration continues with more food and another masa! :)
The celebration continues with more food and another masa! 🙂

We drove a little bit longer to their village house which was the next village over… and as we drove through the main street to their home I fell in love with the beautiful scenery and peacefulness of it all. I can’t believe it took me so long to make a visit!

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We were greeted by this guy before entering the house – my host dad made him to keep strangers away.
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They have many flowering trees at the villa house all over the property.

I got a grand tour of their village home and the property. My host dad showed me all the fields that were theirs and what he plans to plant there. He showed me the fruit trees, walnut trees, bee hives, and where things will be planted for the year ahead.

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It takes many bees to make all that delicious honey we enjoy all year long!
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All the beehives of bees around the flowering fruit trees in one of the gardens.

I taught them how to play UNO, we sat and talked, and we prepared for our next meal together while trying to entertain my 4 month-old host-nephew.

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My host nephew enjoying being outside and giving us all a good laugh with his little laughs and sounds he makes when he smiles.
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We ate our next meal together outside since it was such a beautiful day.

I loved it. It reminded me very much of being at home since I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. It is peaceful and absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to go back again.

Then the next day I went to the office where we continued the celebrations. My coworkers had their young kids join us after lunch where I introduced an Easter egg hunt to them and we hid both plastic eggs and chocolate eggs around the office. The kids loved it and we all had a good laugh over the whole idea of it all.

The eggs the kids collected around the office (even the ones we made out of paper).
The eggs the kids collected around the office (even the ones we made out of paper).

After the egg hunt we did some team building and ate BBQ together that had been prepared behind the office outside in the yard. We talked about the differences between how Easter is celebrated in America compared to Moldova. It was a nice celebration and I understood maybe about half of what was going on in the conversation most of the time.

Our office Easter meal... I know, I know... lots of photos of food and no people. Next time, next time...
Our office Easter meal… I know, I know… lots of photos of food and no people. Next time, next time…

More celebrations to possibly come next week… it’s not over just yet. Paste blajinilor (Memorial Easter) is next weekend when people go to the cemetery with food and wine to visit with family and friends and remember those who have passed.

Easter celebrations, new traditions, and surprises!

This is a continuation from the previous post, “Preparations leading up to Easter in Moldova“… In anticipation of celebrating Easter known as Paște [Pa-sh-tay] in Romanian, the day finally arrived with waking up before the sun made an appearance. My host dad and I left the house around 5:00 am with a basket of food that was prepared for us to go to one of the church’s in the center of the city.

As we were walking in the dark, we could hear all the church bells ringing throughout the city.  You could feel the anticipation of the day that was ahead of us as we passed many people coming and going throughout the town with their lit candles and prepared baskets of foods.

Once we got to the church it was quite the scene as many people were coming and going out of the gate carrying their baskets and the numerous beggars with their hands open and pleading for money. I tried to stay close to my host dad as we made our way in and I tried to take in this new experience.

People lined up around the church waiting for the priest to bless their baskets of food.
People lined up around the church waiting for the priest to bless their baskets of food.

For this tradition, each family prepares a display on the ground or in a basket which includes special sweet bread (pasca), red colored eggs, wine, meat, and a burning candle. It was quite an impressive sight as many people stood behind their candle-lit arrangements expectantly waiting as the church bells rang in the near-dawn darkness.

My host dad laying out all the food to be blessed by the priest.
My host dad laying out all the food to be blessed by the priest and lighting candles representing his family as well as my family in the US.

We didn’t have to wait long for the priest and his attendants to make their way through our line as the priest dipped a large basil branch into a bucket of water carried by a young attendant and splashed generous amounts of holy water over the us and the food as a traditional blessing.

I wish I had this on video, but it happened so quickly that we realized they were in our line and were blessing the arrangement my host dad had just put out. In this photo I was getting doused by a very generous amount of water and was stunned a bit after it had happened.
I wish I had this on video, but it happened so quickly that we realized they were blessing the food-arrangement my host dad had just put out. In this photo I was getting doused by a very generous amount of holy water. Surpriza!
These were all the candles my host dad lit for our food arrangement  and then next we took them into the church along with all our food that had been blessed.
These were all the candles my host dad lit for our food arrangement, and then next we took them into the church along with all our food that had been blessed.

After the food had been blessed we made our way into the church where my host dad put each candle where you pray for health, each one representing his family as well as my family in the US. I followed my host dad into the church and watched him and the many others pay their respects to the various saints and Jesus who was at the front and center of the church. We each lit candles from the front of the church – my host mom told me later that the flame from those candles came from Jerusalem.

The front of the church we had visited on Easter Sunday and lit our candles.
The front of the church we had visited on Easter Sunday and lit the candles.

Once we left the church we made our way home in the dark along with a candle and the food that had been blessed. It is customary to eat this food first thing in the morning, so we made our way home where my host mom had prepared the table so we could all eat together.

Making our way back to the apartment in the dark...
Making our way back to the apartment in the dark…

Once we made it back to the apartment, I had a few unknown surprises I had not heard about before we ate our early blessed meal together…

I never heard of this before... but when we opened the door there was a large knife at the entrance and my host dad told me we needed to step on it because... well, to be honest I am still not sure.
I never heard of this before… but when we opened the door there was a large knife at the entrance and my host dad told me we needed to step on it because… well, to be honest I am still not sure.
And then.. there was the basin filled with water that had a dyed red egg in it and coins. We each used the water to wash our face and rubbed the egg on our face, for health and also rubbed a coin on our face for wealth in this new year. Again, a new tradition I had never heard of before.
And then.. there was the basin filled with water that had a dyed red egg in it and coins. We each used the water to wash our face and rubbed the egg on our face, for health and also rubbed a coin on our face for wealth in this new year. Again, a new tradition I had never heard of before.

Then we finally sat down to our first masa (dinner) of the day where we ate the food that had been blessed at the church… cold meat and all.

The first masa (dinner) of the day... all the food that had been blessed at the church.
The first masa (dinner) of the day… all the food that had been blessed at the church.

One of my new favorite things is the traditional game with the red hard boiled eggs. Before eating, each person chooses an egg and it starts with two people where one hits their egg over the other one to see which one cracks, the one whose egg does not crack continues the game to the next person until the last person’s egg is not cracked and they are the winner.

My host dad and I about to hit our eggs... this was my first time doing this... and it was right before I dropped my egg in surprise and cracked my own egg. Oops.
My host dad and I about to hit our eggs… this was my first time doing this… and it was right before I dropped my egg in surprise and cracked my own egg. Oops.

After our 6:00 am meal we all took a little rest and went back to bed for a little bit before coming back together for another meal a few hours later.

The next meal a few hours later with the addition of a few more foods that my host mom had prepared the day before.
The next meal a few hours later with the addition of a few more foods that my host mom had prepared the day before.

After this second meal, I left to visit my work partner and her family and had my next meal with them. Since it was such a beautiful day, we got to eat together outside.

The next meal with my work partner's family. Lots of food on a beautiful day as we ate outside and enjoyed the sunshine.
The next meal with my work partner’s family. Lots of food on a beautiful day as we ate outside and enjoyed the sunshine. (and this isn’t even all the food yet!)

I even got to meet a new kind of animal that we had eaten that day – a first for me. My work partner’s father raises nutria, they are kind of like a cross between a beaver and river rat – it’s really hard to explain. This was one of the first conversations my work partner and I had when we met… imagine having that conversation in Romanian.

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Some of the larger nutria and their babies up close and personal… along with their big front orange teeth.
My work partner and I holding some of the itty-bitty babies.
My work partner and I holding some of the itty-bitty nutria babies.

After eating more than I normally could handle we went for a nice walk…

Taking a nice walk... and balancing on the sewer line.
Taking a nice walk on such a beautiful day… and balancing on the sewer line.

I made my way home after this to have my next and final meal with my host family. This was my 4th large meal of the day… and at this point I was apparently done photographing for the day.

Now that we have celebrated Easter, instead of greeting people with the typical greeting “Buna ziua” (good day), for forty days after Easter people will greet each other with “Hristos a înviat” (Christ is risen) with the response of “Adevărat a îviat” (Truly He has risen).

So far, this has been my favorite celebration here in Moldova. I have enjoyed the day with my host family and work partner’s family and the adventures and food I got to experience.

…Do you think that the celebrations stopped there? Think again… more to come next!

Preparations leading up to Easter in Moldova

Today has been my favorite holiday celebrated here in Moldova so far, hands down. People have been preparing for it for days – cleaning their homes, shopping, baking, and preparing food.

My host family tried to explain it to me throughout the week which had peaked my interest the more they shared with me about it. I heard about the early 4am wake up on Sunday morning where would go to the church and have our food blessed and see the church lit up with “luminaries” all around. I was told that I would eat a lot of delicious food and drink house wine throughout the day and take naps in between. It sounded like Thanksgiving and Christmas all put into one day. There was a lot of anticipation leading up to this day.

Eggs are dyed red for the Easter celebration (I read somewhere that the reason they are red is to represent the blood of Christ). I will explain more later about what you must do before eating one of these special eggs.
Eggs are dyed red for the Easter celebration (I read somewhere that the reason they are red is to represent the blood of Christ). I will explain more later about what you must do before eating one of these special eggs.

Yesterday, I had to make a quick 2 hour trip to Chisinau with my Technovation Challenge team for them to pitch their idea and get more feedback before they submit their project in less than two weeks. It was a tiring day doing the trip in one day, but I am grateful that the girls got to experience it and get some good feedback about presenting and their app idea.

The girls presenting at the Generator Hub in Chisinau. Even the #girlsintech documentary film  was there that day to film all the teams that were there to present their ideas.
The girls presenting at the Generator Hub in Chisinau. Even the #girlsintech documentary film was there that day to film all the teams pitching their projects.

We made it back to Balti before dinner so we could help at our homes with Easter preparations. Well, at least that is what happened at my apartment with my host family. I got home just in time to try to help with the Easter day preparations.

My host mom preparing all the different kids of meat for the Easter celebration. All happening in one photo - sarmale (rice mixture with meat wrapped in cabbage or grape leaves), parjoale (fried meatballs), roasted lamb, and a new chicken recipe.
My host mom preparing all the different kids of meat for the Easter celebration. All happening in one photo – sarmale (rice mixture with meat wrapped in cabbage or grape leaves), parjoale (fried meatballs), roasted lamb, and a new chicken recipe.
I got to help with chopping up pickles and ham for a salad... I didn't do quite a good a job as my host mom though -- although, she's the one with all the years of experience of chopping them into perfect squares. Mine were more like mutilated rectangles.
I got to help with chopping up pickles and ham for a salad… I didn’t do quite a good a job as my host mom though — although, she’s the one with all the years of experience of chopping them into perfect squares. Mine were more like mutilated rectangles.

Final preparations were made and the basket of food for the morning was prepared to take to the church in the wee hours. At 11:00 pm I heard all the church bells near our apartment start ringing as some people made their way to the church to be there throughout the whole night for the church service and blessing of food.

You could feel the anticipation throughout the whole city of what was before us… all the cleaning, all the food preparation, all the plans made, all the traveling to visit family — all leading up to Easter day — to celebrate Christ had risen (Hristos a înviat).

More to come about Easter day celebrations! Coming up next…