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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
It was a full weekend of celebrating — I helped prepare some traditional foods for the occasion.
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.
Mickey and Minnie also showed up for the special occasion complete with games and activities for the kids.
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.
It certainly captured the attention of my host nephew…
The table was generously spread out full of food and drinks for all the guests.
Then since the little guy loves cars, the afternoon was wrapped up with a car-themed cake and some random life-sized characters.
I had the great opportunity to get out with a friend one weekend to visit one of the many parks located in the capital city. It was an incredible fall day, complete with an idyllic setting and fall weather. I’m glad we stayed long enough to explore and adventure through the park to catch the best sunset I’ve ever experienced in Moldova.
Among the many visitors at this particular park, we had the chance to run into some random goats enjoying the fall day as well. It was such a great afternoon that I cannot help but to share more photos.
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.
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.
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.
The night before hram they were setting up booths like this one for the celebration.
So many people in the streets for the celebration
They had made a replica of the popular Stefan Cel Mare statue out of carpet at this booth.
Lisa and I at Chisinau hram
So much grilled meat everywhere we went.
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.
One evening from the Silicon Valley Drinkabout.
Another networking event at the new coworking space in the center of the city, iHUB.
Women in ICT Conference — and Ana presented about Technovation.
More from the Women in ICT Conference event.
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.
Representing Central PA with Peace Corps Moldova!
Some newer volunteers from the M31 group!
Say hello, James.
Selfie time with this crew.
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.
My friend and her family reading a letter sent by a friend.
Attended an event in Balti where they brought the older generation together with the younger generation to play in a chess tournament.
Music in the center street of Balti.
Selfie with this little guy, oh how I miss him.
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.
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.
As I had shared in a post a few weeks ago, I had just returned to Moldova in August and within 3 days I was attending a friends wedding. The wedding celebrations stretched into two days full of traditions, family and friends.
After the room was setup, guests arrived and the festivities began with a long traditional series of welcomes. People were arranged and grouped by friends and then family of the bride and then family of the groom. Guests formed lines accordingly and each family unit and friends group were announced by the host and then welcomed by the newlyweds. This is when family and friends showered the couple with flowers, well-wishes and hugs and then photos were taken to document the special occasion (and every guest had their photo professionally taken with the bride & groom). It took us awhile to understand what was happening. We waited until all 100 guests went through the line and were welcomed by the couple. Even if guests were late, things were stopped and the guests were announced and welcomed.
There was a lot of dancing, eating, drinking, dancing, eating, drinking, dancing… you get the idea. Festivities went on until the wee hours of the next morning. I think we left around 4:30 AM.
Included below are more photos from the celebratory evening. Captions are included for more details…
There was an amazing electric violin player that played a few songs and danced at the wedding celebration.
The wedding couple danced a special choreographed dance together complete with a smoke machine for special effect.
There were professional dancers that came out at various points throughout the evening and in different costumes. We were highly entertained all evening long.
The bride and groom pull on either side of a circular bread to see who will be the head of the household. Whoever received the most amount of bread in their hand was deemed the “head of household”. The bride won in this instance.
At the end of the evening the nanasi take off parts of the bride and groom and dress them in “normal-life” items like an apron and headscarf.
Then guests come and literally shower the newlyweds with gifts, wrapping them in the blankets and surrounding them with all the gifts. Each person shows the couple the item, places it either on or near them and then sticks some cash into the headscarf of the bride.
After the bride and groom are changed and showered with gifts they cut the cake along with the nanasi. Guests are then served the cake and the evening came to an end.
After we cleaned up the leftover foods and took down the decor, we finally left at the wee morning hours. We collapsed into bed and didn’t wake up until mid-day. However, the festivities continued on! We then went to the bride’s parents’ home for soup and more food.
Friends and family came throughout the day to take part in this Moldovan tradition of having soup and eating some of the leftover food from the wedding celebration the night before. The music and merriment continued well into the evening hours.
More music and singing on the second day of wedding celebrations
So many dishes are needed to be able to serve all the people who come for soup and eating more food.
It took me a few more days to recover from the wedding with the addition of having jet lag and all the changes that were happening at the time. It was a great celebration and I was so grateful to have been able to take part in these special days.
Since I have extended my Peace Corps service into a third year, I have found I often get the question “Why? What are you doing here?” and then followed up by the response “..you must really love Moldova…”
I know it may be hard to understand, but I do like it here and enjoy what I am doing. I think it makes a huge difference when you love what you are doing and find meaning and purpose in it. Has it been easy? Not at all. But what in life is?
To answer the recurring question “What are you doing?” I’ll share a little overview of what that looks like at this time.
Previously, I have written a lot about the global Technovation Challenge program. It has positively changed things for me working with various teams over the past 2 years. As I was nearing the end of my 2 years of service, it seemed to be an ideal time to make some changes within the Technovation program in Moldova to make it more sustainable. Opportunities continued to line up both locally and globally as my extension was being processed.
In addition to continuing in working with the Technovation program in Moldova, I am also working with an organization that is launching a major project located on the Technical University of Moldova known as the Tekwill, ICT Center of Excellence. The project is funded by USAID and the Swedish Embassy. The building is still being constructed and hopefully will be finished in the near future.
Tekwill will focus on improving Moldova’s global competitiveness in the business and investment environment through developing technology, science, and innovation. The Excellence Center will be an innovative space that will encourage growth, learning, and development. I’ve been helping at a consultant/advising level assisting with the development of launching their Tekwill Academy program among other activities and assisting with the marketing and branding aspects of the project.
It’s only been a little over a month so far, and I have really enjoyed working with the Tekwill team and watching the Technovation Moldova program gain strength at a local level.
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.
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.
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!