Double the Holidays

I spent the “old” Christmas with my host family after returning earlier that day from the United States

Here in Moldova, many people celebrate the winter holidays (Christmas and New Year) twice!  The first celebration happens on December 25th, with Christmas.  Then, New Year is celebrated on January 1st.  But it’s not over then! Moldovans also celebrate the two holidays based on the “old” calendar, with Christmas falling on January 7th and New Year on January 14th.  In my village, no one really celebrates the first Christmas, but in other parts of the country, it is celebrated.  We wrapped up the end of the holiday season this past Sunday, and to be honest, I’m a little sad to see it go.

Steaua tradition with some 6th grade students
Steaua tradition with some 6th grade students

Moldova has some wonderful traditions to celebrate both Christmas and New Year.  On Christmas (the 7th), groups of carolers go around and sing at various houses throughout the village.  Mostly, the caroling (colinde) is done by women and girls, but sometimes boys and men join them as well.  From January 7th until January 14th, groups of boys go from house to house with a star built of wood and decorated with tinsel and bright paper.  They wear hats they’ve made of bright paper and say prayers and wishes for a happy and healthy new year in front of the religious icons in the house (or, outside the door of the house).  This tradition is called steaua (star).

Uratura by some of my 5th and 6th graders

For New Year, there are two additional traditions.  The day before, on the 13th, groups of boys (and occasionally girls) go from house to house to perform uraturi.  These can best be described as poems or chants that contain wishes for a good new year.  Younger boys will accompany their speaking with a bell, while older boys will often do a whole skit, complete with bells, whips (they whip the ground), and a piece of rope pulled through a metal ridged can.

On the day of the “old” New Year, groups of children and occasionally adults go from house to house and say poems for good wishes in the new year and throw seeds and grain at the inhabitants of each house as good luck for a fruitful harvest in the autumn.

In return for the well wishes, the family that lives in the house gives each child or person candy, money, and cookies.  For the steaua and colinde, each group is also given a colac, or braided round bread.

The traditions are really quite beautiful and fun, and the students were excited each time they realized I lived in the house (a few knew, but others looked at me in surprise).  To see some traditional colinde (carols) and uraturi (chants/skits/poems), and the seed-throwing tradition, check out the video above in which a group of students from the music and dance school in our village perform for a national radio station.  Almost all of the students (except for two that are playing instruments) are either my current students at school or former students, and they did an exceptional job!  The video is long, so here are the times for each part: the colinde are from 2:25 to 9:53, the uratura is from 10:03 to 14:04, the seed throwing and well wishes are from 14:05 to 14:44, and the last part is the hora, Moldova’s traditional dance, performed the way it is done in my village (each village’s hora is a bit different) from 14:44 to 16:07.  Enjoy!

Vacation is Over, and It’s Not as Bad as I Thought

Some students stopped by our house last night as part of a Moldovan Christmas tradition called “steaua” (star).

Today was the first day back to school after a little over two weeks of vacation, which I spent in the United States with my family.  I have to admit that after a long and difficult trip back to Moldova, I was kind of dreading having to get up this morning and get back into the school routine.  Then I practically didn’t sleep at all last night thanks to jet lag and my body not being adjusted back to this time zone.  I also found out yesterday that one of my partners won’t be here this entire week.  Her absence is for a completely legitimate reason, but teaching some classes by myself when I know I’ll be especially tired this week felt a little daunting.

Needless to say, when I finally dragged (and I really mean dragged- it was no easy feat) myself out of bed this morning I was in a rather foul mood.  I scarfed down a small amount of food, quickly got ready, and walked quickly to school, worried that I was going to be late.  I got to school and found out that we have a new schedule and that I now have to teach SIX lessons in a row on Tuesdays (normal, perhaps, in the United States, but fairly rare here).  Ugh.

And then I went to my classes and was thoroughly surprised by just how great the day ended up being.  Funny how that happens sometimes, right?  My third graders excitedly told me about their vacations and we learned some new English words related to the holidays.  My second graders told me that their vacations were wonderful but that they had really, really missed me.  They were extremely curious about my time in the United States and surprised me by their excitement at the thought of me flying home and then back on a plane.  “I’ve wanted my entire life to ride on a plane!” one girl exclaimed.  When I asked them why they hadn’t come caroling at my house, they looked at me crestfallen and said, “we didn’t know you were home!”  At the end of the lesson, a couple of the girls came up and gave me great, big hugs.  For the first time since last spring, I spent a lesson with a group of 4th graders that I no longer teach, and they cheered when I came in the classroom and were so excited they could hardly read or complete their assignments.  My eighth grade students sang “Happy Birthday” to me in English and asked me all about my trip, and my seventh grade students were well-behaved and quiet.  Later, my site mate told me some of the primary school teachers were talking about me earlier and that they had nothing but good things to say.

I have to say that my no good, very bad day turned out one little blessing after another.  Today was the first day of my last semester of teaching here in this little school and I was reminded of just how lucky I am to be in this village and teach in this school.  Some days are hard, but then there are days like today, when I realize just how much I love being here.  I will miss my students, partners, school colleagues, and host family so very much when I leave here, so for now, I’m going to soak up every minute I have left and focus on all the blessings this adventure has brought me instead of all of the challenges.

Top Memories 2017

2017 was a good year.  This was my only complete calendar year spent in Moldova, and I’m so lucky that I’ve had such an amazing adventure here.  2017 wasn’t without its challenges, but it really was a year full of wonderful memories, fun adventures, and special moments.  Here my top 20 memories and moments from the past year.

Graduation Ball.  In July, the 9th grade students graduated from our school and had a dance and ceremony.  I think this will remain one of my very favorite memories of my time here.  It was one of the first moments when I felt completely a part of my community.  Together with the new graduates, their parents and families, and the other teachers at school, I ate and danced until the early hours of the morning.  It was a special celebration and I was so glad I got to be a part of it.

Walking through the fields.  In August, right before the first day of school, I walked through the fields on the margin of my village with my host mom, host sister, host niece, my sister, and a fellow volunteer.  It was such a beautiful day and it was such a nice escape into nature before the school year started again.

Visiting Et Cetera Winery.  When my sister was visiting, we visited this winery with a friend.  It was such a peaceful mini-vacation with excellent food, great lodging, and friendly people.

My parent’s visit to Moldova and our trip to Romania.  It was so cool to be able to show my parents around the country that is my home now, as well as to go to Romania.  It was a wonderful vacation and I’m so grateful they were able to make the trip.

My sister’s visit to Moldova.  On the same note, I was so happy my sister was able to make it here as well!  It was fun to show her around Chisinau and my village and my students still talk about her sometimes (she went to the first day of school with me).

Language Day Celebration.  Our village went all out this year for the Language Day and Independence Day celebrations, with culinary competitions, dancing, and sports competitions.  The pole climbing competition made me a bit nervous, but was fun to watch.

My host niece dressing up in my clothes.  One afternoon, my 7-year-old host niece, Valerica, dressed up in one of my skirts, my sunglasses, my earrings, and even my name tag!  She then declared she was a model and I was her photographer.  It was a fun way to spend the afternoon and she always makes me laugh!

English Club.  This is more like a lot of wonderful moments combined.  So many of my best days in the last year are thanks to the English Club I do with my 7th to 9th grade students.  Most recently, some of my students in 7th grade told me that they don’t want me to leave this summer because everything is better now that I’m here.  When I asked them what they meant, they said that they want to come to school now and that they love having something to do after school.

Teacher’s Day Party.  Instead of doing a small celebration at the school like they normally do, the teachers at my school decided to pay a bit of money and have a larger celebration at a restaurant in the next town over to celebrate Teacher’s Day.  We ate, drank, and danced the night away and everyone (including me) had a lot of fun.  I also mastered (at least as much as I probably ever will) our village’s version of Moldova’s national dance, the hora.

Mini-Vacation to the North of Moldova.  This past spring, my friend Andrea and I took a weekend trip to the northern part of Moldova and also spent some time in Chisinau.  We visited Curchi Monastery and Orhei Vechi on a guided tour.  We also ate at some nice restaurants in Chisinau and attended the opening of a Himalayan restaurant.  It was a really nice trip before the last leg of school.

Winter Walk to Ermoclia.  Last winter, after a snowstorm and freezing temperatures for too many days, my host mom and I took a long walk to the next village.  The snow was pristine and the temperatures warmer and after several days cooped up inside, it was a welcome escape.  We visited her friends there then walked halfway back before someone offered us a ride back to town.

Teachers’ Excursion.  Last summer, the teachers at my school took a trip one Saturday to two monasteries in the northern part of the country.  We visited Saharna Monastery and Tipova Monastery, taking in the gorgeous views and nice (though very hot!) weather.  On our way back, we had a full picnic on the side of the road.  It was a lot of fun and helped me get to know the other teachers better!

PCV Thanksgiving.  A little over a month ago, I got together with a group of volunteers to celebrate Thanksgiving.  The food was great and the company even better.  After spending the entire autumn in my little village, it was nice to get together with other Americans and eat all the foods we had been missing.

Constelatia Talentelor.  One recent Friday, I got to accompany the student dance ensemble from my village to an international competition in Chisinau.  The students are all my students at school and I went to film it for them.  They did a great job and I spent most of the afternoon with them, helping me get to know my students better.  They actually ended up getting called back for the finals and won Grand Prize!

A Day in Chisinau with Valerica.  This past summer, I spent most of a day showing my host niece Valerica around Chisinau.  Although she’s been to Chisinau, she hadn’t seen most of the tourist attractions, and it was really fun to see it all through her eyes.  We ate (at her request) at Smokehouse, an American BBQ restaurant, where she had mac and cheese and a strawberry milkshake.  Then we walked around Cathedral Park and Stefan cel Mare Park, where she got to ride on a carousel.  Finally, we rode on a trolley bus (a first for her).  We had so much fun!

Harvesting Locust Flowers with My Host Mom.  This past spring, I helped my mom harvest locust flowers to use in tea.  It was great bonding time with her and I was happy to help out with something (although my fingers hurt a bit).

Planting Potatoes and Collecting Grapes.  My family in the United States has a small garden, but I had never really planted potatoes.  I helped my host mom plant several rows one afternoon and can’t wait to do the same when I return to America in our family’s garden.  I also spent some time helping my host parents pick grapes to make into wine.

Welcoming Turul Moldovei to my village.  Turul Moldovei, a group of Peace Corps volunteers doing a walking tour and spreading peace along the way, spent a night with my host family and me this summer.  We visited our school and the local library and cultural center and spent an evening eating great food.

Being Home for the Holidays.  I am so, so happy I had the opportunity to come home for Christmas and the winter holidays.  After spending Christmas abroad last year, it was nice to be home with my family and friends.  We’ve had a great two weeks and I’ll be sad to head back to Moldova later this week (but also excited to see everyone there again as well).  I love my life and experience in Moldova, but there really is no place like home (however cliche that is).

Well, that’s a wrap.  Here’s to a happy, healthy, and successful 2018!

Home for Christmas

When I left the United States one and a half years ago to start my Peace Corps journey in Moldova, I didn’t really plan to come home again until my two-plus year commitment was up.  This past summer I was talking to my grandparents and they encouraged me to come home for Christmas, and since it’s always good to listen to your grandparents, I took their advice and booked a flight home.

Being home for Christmas and just hanging out with my family and friends has been absolutely wonderful!  I love Moldova and my life there, but there really is no place like home.  The first couple days home were packed with things to do and people to see, so we spent a quiet Christmas at home, just hanging out and relaxing.  We ate comfort foods, watched a Hallmark movie, and played some cards.  In the evening, my mom’s parents came over and we celebrated my birthday with some yummy cake.

Yesterday morning, I went plowing with my dad.  We were super lucky to get a nice snowfall and have a white Christmas and we got a bit more snow the night after Christmas.  After he finished plowing, we went up to my family’s Christmas tree farm and took a nice walk through the farm.  It was a cold but calm day and everything was covered with a fresh coat of snow.  It was gorgeous!

Later in the afternoon, we celebrated “Thanksgiving” since none of us kids were home this year.  My dad’s family came over and we had a full turkey dinner.  It was delicious!  After, we opened some presents and had dessert.  My aunt gave me a beautiful ring that had been my grandma’s as well as a pair of earrings that had belonged to my great-grandmother, both of which were very special and meaningful gifts.

Photo a Day: Days 99-105

Week 15!

Day 99: Our dog, Rochie, waits by our muddy steps.
Day 100: A light dusting of snow and a sunset sky.
Day 102: Packing for my trip home to the USA for Christmas vacation.
Day 101: The last of the snow remaining in our courtyard.
Day 103: A beautiful sunset over the village’s church.
Day 104: Some of my students perform at a holiday concert in our raion center.
Day 105: My host mom (right) and her friend Natasha in front of the Arcul de Triumf in Chisinau.