“My perspective on Volunteering has changed…” – Meet Igor

This guy has me laughing pretty much every time I see him. Meet Igor, a smart and dedicated 19 year old who grew up in Balti, Moldova. He is currently in his first year of college studying marketing at a ASEM (Academy of Economics studies of Moldova) located in Chisinau. He’ll come and visit his family on the weekends so we get to see him sometimes when he is in town. I appreciate Igor’s willingness to learn new things and hearing his perspective on life. I have learned a lot from him and believe he has a bright future ahead…

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Paden, a Peace Corps volunteer with Igor at a fundraising event this past year.

What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
Being a college student and working doesn’t really give me much free time, but when I do have it, I use to catch up on my reading, spending time with friends, and volunteering when I get a chance.

Tell us about the first time you met a Peace Corps volunteer…
I first met a Peace Corp Volunteer in August 2013. A friend of mine was planning an event with a volunteer and asked me if I wanted to help. I agreed and we went for a meeting, and that’s the first time I ever met a PCV.

Has your perspective on Volunteering changed?
My perspective on Volunteering has changed, because before I thought that volunteering is just something you do once a week for couple hours, after working with Peace Corps Volunteers I realized that it’s an entire process, where you need to dedicate your time, energy and basically yourself to the cause.

How have Peace Corps volunteers impacted your life?
Where do I start? In the last couple years PCVs have completely changed my life. They made me aware of who I am, what I am capable of and more importantly, what my country is capable of.  They taught a lot of useful skills, convinced me to stay and help my country instead of moving away as I initially planned.  And thanks to them I have found my first job. The truth is that only couple years ago, I was just going through life without a purpose, of a plan, but now it’s different. I am not the person I was three years ago, and I am glad.

If you could say one thing to all Peace Corps volunteers what would it be?
What you’re doing is important, even if it doesn’t seem like that. Just keep in mind that you are making the world a better place.

Also… If someone gives you a choice: rachiu or wine, always go for the wine.

If you could say one thing to all Moldovans about volunteering what would it be?
Keep volunteering, because not only you are helping those in need, you are also helping yourself, by acquiring important life skills, and meeting a lot of new and interesting people.

What are some of your hopes for Moldova’s future?
My hopes for Moldova’s future? My only hope is that it reaches its potential, and becomes the country it could be, instead of the country it is right now.

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!

An Adventure in the Village of Molovata

A few weekends ago I met my friend Katie in Chisinau and we made our way to her village which is about an hour and a half from the capital and is located along the Nistru river, not far from Transnistria.

She lives in a village of about 3,000 people and works with the mayor’s office there doing community and organizational development (aka rock-star). It was quite a treat to see her life in Molovata and see what she has been up to over the last ~7 months.

We hopped on the 5:15 pm rutiera that was standing room only by the time we got there. About 30 minutes into the ride, the rutiera quickly turned into a sauna and Katie and I could not help but look at one another and just laugh.

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Standing room only on the 1.5 hour rutiera ride to Molovata that day. Smiles and a selfie are needed of course. As well as the random guy in our photo too, he however was not as amused.

After that rutiera ride, I knew the weekend would be quite the adventure.

After an evening of eating and drinking with her host family, catching up on life and some needed rest we were ready for some adventure. The next day we set out for a tour of her village with her trusty dog-companion, Clifford.

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Meet Clifford… Katie’s host family dog. I think he’s my favorite dog in all of Moldova now. He’s awesome.

We set out after breakfast and toured the village so I could see all the places she works and visits on a regular basis.

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The beginning of our long walk through the village…
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The Nistru river to the left… and a ginormous puddle/pond in the road along the way…
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Lots of mud on this road here… again, Nistru on the left…
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The one church in her village and part of the monument that is right next to it…
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Part of the monument structure next to the church…

Katie made a new friend along the way, or maybe it was Clifford who did? – and he joined us for our little excursion up a steep hill to check out the view of the Nistru and Molavata from afar.

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Meet our new little friend who accompanied us for a while on our adventure…
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Steep hill, ideal viewing spot… let’s go!
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How about this natural spring spot along the way? Very cute!
Amazing view of Molovata and the Nistru river from the top!
Amazing view of Molovata and the Nistru river from the top!

After about 4 hours of walking and exploring Katie’s village life we made our way back to her place where we met up with another friend who lives in the neighboring village and she joined us for lunch at Katie’s host family home.

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An afternoon of….fun?

It was such a fabulous and needed weekend away to be able to spend some time with this lovely gal and also to see Eliz too which was an awesome surprise. I am so grateful for Katie’s hospitality and friendship. I’m already planning my next visit to that area again in a few months. Until next time… la multi ani!

What would an adventure be without a selfie with the Nistru river?
What would an adventure be without a selfie with the Nistru river?

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.

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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!).