March 8th, International Women’s Day

Although Women’s Day is an international holiday, it isn’t celebrated much in the United States.  In the former Soviet states, however, it is a huge holiday.  Here in Moldova, there is no school and most businesses are closed.  There are celebrations the day before at schools and other places of work, and on March 8th, everyone celebrates.

On Wednesday, our 7th grade students prepared a small celebration and concert for the teachers.  They recited poems about mothers and women, sang, and spoke about the importance of women.  After, one of the few male teachers at our school presented the rest of us with flowers and kind words.  We followed that with a small masa (meal)- just tea, bread, some vegetables, and vegan sausages since it’s currently post (a fasting period- in this case lent).

On Thursday, our village had a large concert at the casa de cultura (cultural house/community center).  It was held in the afternoon with song, poems, dance, and even some surprises for a few women in our community.  A number of students from my school performed various songs.  The students who learn at our village’s school and music school performed both traditional songs and dances.  Generally, only the older students (grades 8-9) get to perform, but on Thursday the youngest group (mostly in grades 1-3) and medium group (mostly grades 4-7 but with a couple of 3rd graders as well) also performed.   The older group, which performs often across Moldova and even in other countries, performed a new dance that was really beautiful.

A number of women in the village were given certificates and gifts for being great mothers and raising kids that the community is particularly proud of, as well as a younger mother with 6 kids.  The first woman to receive a certificate was also surprised by the community.  After she received her certificate, a man from a gift store presented her with a cake and a card from her son, who lives abroad in France and she hadn’t seen in quite some time.  Then, after the card was read, the emcee announced there was another surprise, and first that son and then all of her kids and grandchildren entered.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the entire auditorium.  Another older woman received a similar surprise, with kids living abroad surprising her.

After the local groups performed, there was a short intercession, and then a well-known Moldovan orchestra took the stage.  A number of well-known singers also joined them, including one that is from my village.

In all, it was a beautiful celebration full of good music, and special moments.


Last week, Moldovans celebrated one of my favorite holidays, which is called Marțişor (pronounced mar-tsee-shore).  This holiday is celebrated every year on March 1st and is an ancient tradition that celebrates the coming of spring.  In ancient times, the marțişor (amulets) were created using small pebbles painted white and red and arranged on a string.  The colors red and white came from pagan traditions.  Blood, or the red on the marțişor, symbolized life, fertility, and worship.  White symbolized snow, ice, and clouds.

From our Peace Corps language instructors: “At the beginning of 19th century the beautiful Amulet was found in all Romanian regions. Especially children and women wore around their necks or on their left hands two woolen yarns (one red, one white) knitted together and a small silver or golden coin hung on them. The belief was that those who wore that Amulet were protected and would have good luck in the next year. It was written in books that young Moldavan girls wore Mărţişor from March 1st till March 12th. After two weeks, they used to tie their hair with that special red-white yarn waiting to see the first spring birds coming to their village. Only after that event, the young girls took out the Amulet and hang it to the first tree they saw in blossom.”

Today, Marțişor is celebrated in all Romanian regions (Romania and Moldova), as well as Macedonia and Albania.  In Moldova, it is a symbol of spring and joy.  By exchanging them, people are showing a gesture of love, friendship, respect, and appreciation.  They are worn on the left side on their chests starting on March 1st and throughout the month.  After removing them, they are hung on a tree to bring a good harvest.

At school, each teacher is given marțişori from students, and outside of school, they are also exchanged among adults and children.  Some of the marțişor are handmade, while others are purchased.  I received a few marțişor from students, as well as my host parents.  My host dad also gave me a larger marțişor that is meant to hang on the wall and which was hand-crocheted by a woman in our village.

It’s a beautiful tradition and one that I think I may bring back with me to the United States.  Happy Marțişor!

Peace Corps Week Celebrations

Each year on the anniversary of the foundation of Peace Corps, Peace Corps volunteers, communities, and returned Peace Corps volunteers celebrate the Peace Corps.  Peace Corps was founded on March 1, 1961 by President John F. Kennedy.  Since then, over 220,000 volunteers have served in 140 countries.  Each year, Peace Corps Week celebrates the work, successes, and communities of volunteers.  This year’s theme was “Highlighting Home”.  In our village, my site mate and I decided to put together a week of activities and events to join in the celebrations and promote cross-cultural awareness.

We kicked off our activities with a mini “International Film Festival” on Tuesday.  Together with students in 5th through 9th grade, we watched the video submissions to the annual volunteer video contest (see them here).  Before watching each video, students found the country on a map and after each video, we discussed what they observed, learned, and made comparisons to what “home” looks like here in Moldova.  After we had watched all of them, our students made the observation that while the houses and people may look different from country to country, the feeling of “home” was the same in each place, as well as here in Moldova.

On Thursday we continued our celebration by video-chatting with a 5th grade class in the United States.  Our students, along with the students in the USA, prepared questions for each other, and we talked about things like holidays (it was Martisor here in Moldova on Thursday), school, and what kids like to do in the USA and in Moldova.  We even taught the American students a couple of words in Romanian!

We wrapped up our Peace Corps Week activities on Friday by welcoming some American guests to our school.  Three fellow volunteers came to our village and spoke to about 50 of our 5th to 9th grade students about what and where “home” is for them.  My site mate, Amir, and I also presented a bit about our “homes” and family in the United States.  Our students were very excited to meet some more Americans!

The week as a whole was a huge success!  Our students especially loved video-chatting with American students and meeting the other volunteers.  I was reminded of why I came here and the importance of the 2nd and 3rd goals of the Peace Corps: “to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served” and “to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans”.  This is why we are here, and we have so much to learn from one another.

100 Zile | 100 Days Celebration

Two weeks ago, I was invited by one of my partner teachers to go to her daughter’s 1st grade class’s 100 Days Celebration.  Each year, the 1st grade classes celebrate the first 100 days of school with a big performance and party.  They dressed up and each girl wore a big yellow bow in her hair while each boy wore one at his neck.

The students recited long poems, sang, danced, and even put on a couple short skits.  Each child’s mother (or grandmother in a couple cases) attended.  Each child, with the help of his/her parents, made a craft with 100 items (100 butterflies, 100 bees, 100 candies, etc.), which they presented.

After the performances, each student presented his or her mom with a present and then the kids danced with their moms.  At the end, the students and parents gathered in their classroom and ate a delicious and beautiful cake, followed by a full masa (meal/party) with plenty of food and drink.

The kids did an amazing job and it was wonderful to see them proudly present what they’ve learned this year to their parents.  I don’t teach 1st grade, so I also got to know some more students at the school as well as their moms and grandmas.

Bright Moments

Class 8A earlier this semester during English Week (listening to poetry recitations by students in 2nd grade)

Lately I’ve been feeling like teaching in Moldova is draining me.  I love teaching and I love my students, but I’ve been frustrated by classes that don’t listen, students that are noisy, and the lack of motivation of many of my students.  The truth is, teaching is hard.  But then sometimes your students absolutely surprise you in the best of ways.

One of the frustrating things about teaching in Moldova is how few of the students actually do their homework.  On the best days, less than 3/4 of my students actually attempt even part of the homework, and it’s usually the same 6-7 students in each class that come prepared.  Then, because without having done the homework the other students aren’t prepared, those same 6-7 students are the only ones who participate actively in the lesson.  The older the students get, fewer of them do their homework.

Today, one of our 8th grade classes shocked us!  Every single student in attendance did homework, including two that have never done so in the two years I’ve been here.  Not only had each student attempted to do a small part of what had been assigned, they all completed at least 2 of the 3 tasks they had.  It was truly a special day!!  Best of all, it was clear that the students were proud that they had done the work.  One of the students received a 9 for a grade (the grades are out of 10 and 5 is passing), which is definitely a first for him in English.  He was so excited and eagerly asked us to put his grade in his student agenda.

I doubt this momentous event will happen again, but I’m thrilled that it even happened this one time.  It reminded me that my students are capable and of why I love teaching.  Bravo Class 8A!!!