My 3 favorite (& funny) phrases in Romanian

I’ve been in Moldova for around 21 months… and I still have so much to learn about speaking and reading Romanian. I can get by though,  as some days are better than others. These 3 phrases are my favorites, and often bring lots of laughter when I use them, especially with my host family.

“Castravete mort.”

Disclaimer: this is one that I accidentally created… It should have been “Castravete murat” which translates to “picked cucumber”… but I said “dead cucumber”. We now refer to pickles in my host family home as “dead cucumbers/castravete mort”.

It’s a baby cucumber! Photo was taken during a visit to a farm in the north of Moldova.

“Eu sunt plin.” 

Again, this is one that I had “created”, but this time it’s because we use this phrase in English. We really do have some interesting phrases that are confusing to non-native English speakers. But anyway, this phrase translates to “I am full”.  I use this phrase when my host mom offers me more food, “no thank you, I am full…” in which case she’ll bursts into laughter. Apparently it doesn’t quite translate well and doesn’t make any sense. I have now taught them how to say it in English and I still use it in Romanian… and it continues to bring lots of laughs each time.

The serving sizes I am given to eat are bigger than what I am used to… I can eat a lot now.

“Trage un poi de somn.”

This one translates to “having a chicken sleep” or “having a baby chicken nap”. I love using it with my host family, which as you can see from this theme, it brings lots of laughter. First time I used this phrase was early on in my service and they were shocked that I knew it — many thanks to pre-service language training! 😉

One of the many chickens from my host family’s friend’s home.



My personal 15 reasons to be thankful this year

Today marks my 2nd Thanksgiving without being surrounded by family and friends back home as I live and serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova. Last year around this time I celebrated with fellow volunteers and friends and when I also got to experience meeting real live turkeys that would be served on our table the next day.

As I think of my family and friends from home today, I realize how much I miss them and the small comforts of being surrounded by their laughter, jokes, silence, and smiles. Each day I continue to step outside my comfort zone and for this experience and the people I have gotten to know I am incredibly grateful.

In honor of 2015 I picked 15 reasons to be thankful this year…

  1. The people in my life. If I were to list all the people I am thankful for in my life this list would be incredibly long. Many thanks to my supportive family back in PA; my encouraging friends living all over this small world; my amazing host families here in Moldova; many warm and welcoming friends of various ages here in Moldova; and my fellow PCV family/friends spread throughout all over Moldova and around the globe.
  2. Skype, Google Hangouts, iMessage, Viber… okay so basically the internet. How else would I get to talk/chat to all those amazing people I grouped into #1?!
  3. Being able to keep my feet warm and dry. And shoe repair places. It’s amazing how such a little bit of water/snow can make you appreciate the days when you can keep your feet dry and warm.
  4. Walking to/from work…and about everywhere else. I am grateful for some built-in daily exercise, plus some time to clear my head and think. I know this will be one thing I’ll miss after Peace Corps.
  5. Speaking & understanding a new language. Although honestly, some days I appreciate not being able to completely understand everything that was said to me. ex: random man yelling obscenities at me after realizing I didn’t speak Russian.
  6. Care packages and letters. It’s as if someone sent a real-life hug in paper/package form (or suitcase depending on how it got here).
  7. Books. For me reading is a way to unwind from the day/week and am grateful I’ve been able to make some more time to read at the end of the day.
  8. Baby giggles. I live with a one year old who laughs a lot. His tiny giggles are the best, especially when he comes fast-speed-crawling into my room and laughing because he knows he’s “not allowed”.
  9. Running water, electricity, and heat. We have access to these things generally most of the time. Makes you appreciate them even more so when they get turned off unexpectedly or when something breaks.
  10. My notebooks and agenda book. These things help keep me organized daily so I can remember where I’m supposed to be and keep track of all my project notes in one place. Or they at least help remind me how often my plans change throughout the day.
  11. Fresh organic food. The food here is incredibly fresh (more so in the spring/summer) and most likely you know where it came from (backyard garden, neighbor down the road, or a new friend from the market).
  12. Music & Spotify. Ideal for my any living situation especially finding new music and artists. Plus it’s perfect for an impromptu dance party and for finding random funny music for kindergartners.
  13.  Health. Generally I have made it through my Peace Corps service with very little health issues. I am beyond thankful for this and hope this trend continues. We toast to “sanatate” (health) about every day at dinner, so maybe that has something to do with it?
  14. Scarves. If you know me well then you are probably not surprised. There’s just something comforting about a colorful fun scarf especially in winter. Plus, they’re warm.
  15.  Being a Peace Corps Volunteer. So far my experience as a PCV has lived up to it’s slogan “The toughest job you’ll ever love”. Even with the challenges, I am so glad I am here.


PS – To note: It snowed today in Moldova, hence the snowy cover photo. 

The New Protector of the Cherry Tree

A few weekends ago I was able to join my host family at their village house (which they call the villa) for some much needed rest. They told me I needed a break from the computer and the meetings and projects that have filled up my time over the past year. So before I knew it, I was whisked off to the villa with a few books and a few clothes I could wear in the garden.

We went on a little excursion to see the part of the village where my host dad grew up.
We went on a little excursion to see the part of the village where my host dad grew up.

The water pump for the entire village had been broken so there was no running water and the house was still getting reorganized from the winter… it felt like camping and I loved it!

When we got there my host dad immediately could tell something was amiss with the cherry trees he had left guarded by stick-replicas of my host mom and host sister – who were supposed to guard and scare away the birds who liked to dine on the sweet cherries. I followed him out to assess the damage of the trees and he told me it was a tragedy… they ate about 90% of all the cherries. Next thing I know he was doing this…

He then declared “war with the birds”… please know that no birds were harmed or will be harmed, he did this to scare them away from the fruit trees.

As we ate dinner my host mom and dad were joking that my job the next day would be to guard the tree and keep the birds away. I happily agreed, as it seemed anything I tried to help with took extra patience for all of us and I seemed to do things at a slower pace than expected. I learned some new vocabulary that’s for sure.

This is just a quarter of the garden area that they have. There are watermelons, peppers, and peas growing here in this area.
This is just a quarter of the garden area that they have. There are watermelons, peppers, and peas growing here in this area.

The next morning after I ate breakfast and offered to help with things in the garden, they told me to relax and read my books. I found a nice sunny spot in the front of the villa near the cherry trees and started reading… and sure enough, those pesky birds were out in the tree again. I tried to scare them away by waving my arms and yelling in Romanian, but they didn’t move. Next, I tried yelling in English… and the traditional “SHOO-SHOO!” which seemed to kinda work.

One of the books I finished that weekend while sitting in the garden.
One of the books I finished that weekend while sitting in the garden. Good stuff.

My host mom heard all the commotion in the front of the house and then hands me an old tin can and a big stick. She shows me how to bang on the can properly to scare the birds. So there I was on a sunny Saturday afternoon reading a book and banging on an old rusted tin can with a large awkward stick to scare away the birds when they perched themselves in the cherry tree. Memories in the making.

My host family found it incredibly entertaining that I agreed to do this and we are all still laughing about it all. So who knows what my next task will be next time I make a visit to the villa house.

The flowers at the villa house are beautiful right now. My host dad made me pose in the "perfect" spot for a photo in the garden.
The flowers at the villa house are beautiful right now. My host dad made me pose in the “perfect” spot for a photo in the garden.

One Year Later – Confessions of a PCV in Moldova

A year ago today I was taking in my new surroundings as a Peace Corps Trainee. Fast forward to today as I reflect on all that has happened and changed over this past year.  I am amazed at how fast it has gone. In honor of celebrating one year serving with Peace Corps in Moldova I want to share some things I have learned about myself within this past year…

Public transport and miles of walking…

Since we cannot drive cars as Peace Corps Volunteers we are left to either walk or take public transportation when we need to go somewhere. I have come to find I really enjoy the time each day walking to/from work which is about a 15-20 minute walk. Now I find that walking a few miles in a day is normal. As for the public transportation part… I have experienced falling asleep on a rutiera and train — an accomplishment in of itself. But enjoying the rutiera or train, especially in the summer time, that is a different story.

Did I just eat ALL of that?

My host mom is a great cook and she puts a lot of food on my plate. I have noticed that over time my plate size has also increased with the portion size as well. And, well… I usually end up eating all of it. The amount of potatoes, mayonnaise, and sour cream has multiplied in my diet probably 5x’s — and I found that I like them all too, probably a little too much. Try putting mayonnaise on your mashed potatoes next time… 😉

Pass the wine juice please…

House wine is an important part of a Moldovan family home. Most families have house wine and serve it with dinner. I have noticed that I now prefer my host family’s house wine over others and I think it kinda tastes like juice.

I speak a new language!?

One year later and I am able to have a conversation and tell a story in Romanian now. I can get around alright with my language, but being correct and able to express myself in greater detail, that’s another story for another year. The fact that I can speak a whole other language in this short amount of time — that’s just crazy.

How old am I?

I still live with a host family and I love that I have become a part of their family. Little did I know I also would feel like I have digressed a few years or a decade or two when it comes to living with them. Like letting them know where I am going and if/when I am going to be home late… and the other day my host dad cut my pork-chop for me. Another thing, it is not inappropriate to ask someone’s age when you first meet them – I have had it happen to me a few times that when I tell people I’m treizeci si doi (32) in Romanian, they tell me I am wrong and that I switched the numbers around as it should be douăzeci și trei (23). Apparently Moldova will make you younger — who knew?! I am so grateful for this past year, for all that I have learned, for the people I have gotten to know, and for the change in perspective. I look forward to the next year ahead and all that it may hold. Here’s to the second half of my Peace Corps service! Noroc!

Meet Team Pandicorn + Latest Technovation Challenge Moldova News

Meet Team Pandicorn: a group of four girls ages 15-16 that I mentored for the Technovation Challenge entrepreneurship and technology competition. They each brought a different element to their project and I had the great honor to see them improve their leadership skills, working as a group, and seeing improvement in their English by the end of the program. They showed up every week on time and eager to learn and push through all the challenges they faced.

(I had shared in the previous blog post about the Technovation Challenge program and the exciting news that the girls had made it to the semi-final round. Read more here >> “Celebrations & Lessons Learned from Technovation Challenge)

These girls are incredibly creative as they created the logo, videos, and came up with the app design in addition to all the other pieces they needed to submit their project. The name of their app is Smart-Ed which is an app that “connects people for honest learning”.

Smart-Ed Logo
Their logo and app icon for the Smart-Ed app.

As part of this world-wide competition, the theme for this year was to identify a community issue and come up with a solution by creating a phone app and business plan. They created the pitch video below to share their idea. They came across some obstacles with filming their video and they figured out a solution, all on their own. I was very impressed.

An issue they identified in their community was that in some cases more emphasis is placed on some students paying to get better grades than actually focusing on learning the material and earning it. Their idea was to create an app that would be a platform where students (or anyone really) could find a “learning coach” in their community to help them with their studies or to learn something new, like cultural handicrafts. They would connect through the app and then setup a day/time to meet in person and the “learning coach” would make a little extra income through meeting with different students and helping with different subjects.

Some of the screen shots of the Smart-Ed app they created…

I asked them to share with me how they felt after they found out about making it to the semi-final round…

“After we found out that we were in the semi-finals I felt great because we stayed up until 3 am (the time they announced the results) and waited… and after we found out that we were in the semi-finals, we started to send each other “funny faces” and we were like “Oh, I can’t believe” grin emoticon… which is hard to explain.” – Olga

“I felt good and very proud of the team and also, very thankful to our mentor.” – Catalina

I asked them to share a fun or funny story from their experience with Technovation Challenge…

“I think the funniest part was when we had to film our pitch video and we spent about 7-9 hours for doing that because we laughed a lot. Like A LOT!!! (grin emoticon)” – Catalina

“The funniest story is when Alexandra and I stayed up late to find out what the results were. So we did everything to help one another to not fall asleep. Another funny story was when we all tried to film the pitch video because we spent 9 hours trying to film it and the result is a 4 min video, so that’s just insane. (grin emoticon)” – Olga

They have expressed interest in continuing to create this phone app to make it a reality here in their community. I am looking forward to seeing what happens.

As for the latest news about the finals, we found out this past weekend that the girls did not make it to the final round. They have made such an incredible accomplishment by making it to the semi-finals which has added a boost for them to continue to work on this business-app idea to make it a reality. I am so proud of them.

Congratulations, Team Pandicorn! Well done, you have taught me so much and are such an encouragement to me as a Peace Corps volunteer, thank you! (grin emoticon) [click!] 😉

A side note, to answer a common question: So… what is a pandicorn?
It is a panda bear and unicorn together of course!  

A visit to the frizerie = confusion and laughter

I haven’t cut my hair since I arrived to Molodova. It’s probably been about 9-10 months since my last hair cut and I’ve been putting it off knowing it would take time and energy to do so. On Valentine’s day I had plans that ended up changing and I found myself with a free afternoon. I mentioned to my host family that I wanted to get my hair cut and within minutes I was putting on my shoes and following my host dad to the closest frizerie (hair salon).

The frizeria (salon) which is only a 1 minute walk from my apartment building.
The frizerie (salon) which is only a 1 minute walk from my apartment building.

My host mom and dad recommended the frizerie that was closest to our apartment, but the thing about this particular frizerie was that the person and the salon they recommended only spoke Russian. Which presented an added challenge to my limited language skills… of Romanian. I explained to my host dad in Romanian along with hand gestures of how I wanted my hair to be cut and then he translated for me in Russian to the hair stylist. Next thing I knew I was getting my hair washed and staring at my reflection in the mirror.

What have I done?!

My hairdresser tried to ask me some questions…I tried to respond… and before I knew it, everyone in the salon was part of my hair cutting experience. Her son happened to be there and he spoke a little bit of English and another man was there who spoke a mix of a little Romanian and English and between all of them we were able to confirm what I wanted. No hair dye, just a cut and somehow the word “fringe” was mentioned… and I was afraid I would end up with short bangs.

Never have I had so many men involved with getting my hair cut before.

When my new hairstylist friend got to the front part of my hair, I tried to make sure she didn’t cut my bangs too short, which we were successfully able to communicate. However, it was at then at this point that the added confusion came in… she started pointing to various points on my face to my nose and chin — me thinking she wanted to cut my hair that length. And I clearly didn’t understand so she yelled really loud for someone else to come out.

Another woman comes out that I hadn’t seen yet and they are speaking in Russian about me – pointing at me, my hair, and my face. She starts questioning me in Romanian, but I am having a hard time understanding… here’s how it went in my head and how it sounded to me…

Woman: “Este dificil?”

Me: “Um….no?”

Woman: “Yawva asi wfl ami față?”

Me: “My hair?”

Woman: “Nuuuuuuu! Față!”

Me: “My face?”

Woman: “Da! Avwe avki livia aeil awiveo față aivemai”

Me: “What?!? My daughter? Um, I don’t understand.” [laughing to myself]

..although it didn’t go like this exactly and the whole conversation was in Romanian (plus I made up some words in there for affect, so don’t even try to translate). After a few moments of this going on, I began to realize that we were no longer talking about my hair but my skin. Oh the adventures… as she tried to schedule me that week for a consultation, I politely declined for the moment and told her I would have someone call later to translate for me. She happily agreed and went back to the room she came from while I laughed to myself about my life.

As for my adventure to the salon, I didn’t walk out with purple hair or short bangs — it may be a little shorter than I wanted and the layers are not exactly what I wanted either, but I’d still call it a win. I also may have felt like I was insulted, but instead I’ll take it as a misunderstanding and have a good laugh about it instead.

Whoohoo... it's a new do!
Whoohoo… it’s a new do!

Every day is an adventure, it’s amazing how such simple things that I took for granted like going to my favorite salon back home, knowing my hairdresser and that she could understand me were such a gift (plus she is wonderful and quite talented!).

Trying new foods is an adventure!

A common question I have received from friends and family at home has been about food. I had shared back in September 2014 about some traditional Moldovan foods I have been eating – some on a regular basis. As my time continues rapidly here in Moldova, I find myself on an adventure most days when it comes to the food.

These are some recent dishes that have been interesting to me and have caused the most laughter in my host family home because either my reaction to it or because of inside jokes we now have that usually happen while we are sitting around the kitchen table.

Let’s start with the pork… I’ve eaten a lot of tasty pork lately but these two had me asking lots of questions…

This is pig skin, or better known as pork rind…and it’s fresh. I tried a tiny bit of it and that’s as far as I have gotten.
And then this is also pork and from my interpretations, pork rind as well? Correct me if I am wrong for those of you who know.

And then one evening when we were celebrating old New Years (January 14), I was highly entertained by this lovely surprise on the kitchen table…

A giant burrito…. oh, wait… it’s a surprise?!
….surprise! We have a whole roasted chicken wrapped in a giant burrito-type-bread. It was delicious — I think the highlight for my host family that night was my reaction to seeing this culinary creation.

And then, we have some of my favorite kitchen-moments — when my host dad makes his special, secret salata (salad). Occasionally, there will be moments when he takes a bunch of ingredients and either goes into the other room or the balcony table and hides while he makes his “secret salata”. Then, he’ll bring it out all fancy-like with a big smile and we all have a good laugh and try his new creation – usually involving beer snacks, mayo, and sunflower seeds.

My host dad presenting some of his secret-salata creations. This one was one of my favorites – beer snacks, sunflower seeds, mayo and pomegranate seeds. Don’t knock it ’till you try it!

And then, we have another type salata (salad), this time I believe it’s a traditional Eastern European/Russian salad that is like Shuba, which also goes by the name “herring under a fur coat” but this version doesn’t have any herring in it. I just learned how to make this the other night and have found it to be another favorite salata.

This red beet salad has red beets, garlic, crushed walnuts, and mayo (lots of mayo).

And lastly… we have the pickled watermelon. My host family has a garden where this little watermelon is from and they brined/pickled it for the winter. I personally am not a fan of it – but they love it.

Pickled watermelon – have you had it before? What did you think?

Speaking of pickled foods…. I have a funny story from the other day; in fact we are still laughing about it here. Maybe it won’t be as funny to you as it has been to me and my host family. So, the other morning my host mom was making a kind of Russian soup that had pickles in it. She told me the names of the things that she was putting in the soup as I was eating breakfast… “castraveti murati” (pickled cucumbers)… and I replied oh so confidently,” Oh yea! castraveti mort!”…. and she bursts into laughter — me with no clue why until she starts exclaiming “mort?!” and asking me if that’s what I really said, which was “dead cucumbers” — that’s what I had learned or picked up somehow… but in all reality, I misunderstood the mispronouncing of “murati” vs. “mort” — which makes a difference in this situation. And now we laugh when my host mom pulls out the preserved foods – like I said, every day is an adventure when it comes to the food — and I hopefully I will no longer call my food “dead”.