Winter Made a Surprise Return

All those gorgeous tulips got covered in snow

The weather here has been consistently nice and warm for the past month or more.  That’s typical for here, and snow in April (even a dusting) is extremely rare in Moldova.  On Thursday, however, we got hit with a really big snowstorm with high winds and cold temperatures.  According to the news, this is the most snow Moldova has ever gotten so late in spring.  It also caused a lot of damage.

Day 2 of the snowstorm
With my host dad for reference

In Chisinau and the south of Moldova (where I live), we got about 2 feet of snow, and it came down fast.  Power was out for the majority of Moldova for a couple of days and some locations are still without power.  Heavy winds caused a lot of trees and branches to fall, and there were over 3 dozen car accidents in the capital alone.

Our cherry tree covered in snow

The worst of the damage, though, will most likely be to crops.  Moldovans start planting around March 8th, so a lot of things have been in the ground for over a month.  In addition, fruit trees were in full bloom.  There’s still a decent amount of snow on the ground, so it’s impossible to know how much damage there is.  My host parents think the onions might be okay, but they (and everyone else) likely lost their potatoes and beans.  A lot of people who have greenhouses lost everything because the strong winds destroyed the greenhouses and they couldn’t get everything inside quick enough.  My host brother’s wife’s family think they lost about half of the plants in their greenhouse (which means about half of their yearly income).  Moldovan officials have said there may be a shortage of fruits and vegetables this summer, leading to possible rationing.

Our gate
My solo game of Bananagrams

My village lost power for over two days.  My section of the village regained power around 8pm on Saturday, though some sections are still out.  Thankfully, most houses in my village are older and therefore have sobas, or wood stoves, for heat.  In areas with more modern homes with radiators, some people have been without heat for several days.  We also didn’t lose water, but other villages did.  It was a long two days without power.  I’ve been on break the past week, and definitely got pretty bored without books to read (living abroad, I don’t have physical books and my Kindle’s battery was dead), people to play board games with (my host parents were busy preparing things for the holiday that is today and shoveling, etc.), or really anything else to do.  On Saturday evening, I played a game of Bananagrams with myself to help pass the time.

It looks like this week will be back in the 60s or 70s, so the snow should melt quickly (it’s going to be so muddy!), and then we’ll see how much damage there is.  For now, we are very thankful we have power again!

Hristos a inviat!

Pasca, traditional Moldovan Easter bread

Yesterday was Easter, both according to the Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christian calendars.  This is actually a pretty rare occasion, as usually the two Easters do not fall on the same Sunday.  Here in Moldova, Easter is by far the number one most important and biggest holiday of the year.

Most Moldovans (though certainly not all) participate in post, or a fast, for the entirety of the 40 days of lent.  This means that for the 40 days leading up to Easter, they do not eat meat, fish, butter, milk, and other dairy products.  They also do not drink wine or other alcohol.  They also do not consume oil for a number of days throughout this time (though not the entire 40 days).  The most devout Orthodox Christians do a full fast (no food) for the final 3 days before Easter.  They are allowed to eat wafers and drink Holy water during these 3 days, but nothing else.

Pasca: a sweet yummy bread

The week before Easter is also full of a number of various services, including several that last six to twelve hours long (during which you stand or kneel on a hard surface for the entire time- there are no pews or chairs in churches in Moldova, except for the elderly or sick).  I went with my host parents to a service on Friday night.  We arrived around 5PM and my host dad and I stayed until nearly 11PM (my host mom stayed for the entirety of the service, which didn’t end until about 4:30AM).  Towards the end of when I was there, everyone gathered with candles and followed a procession made of a number of men holding a cross, some banners, and the lid of a coffin around the outside of the church.  I believe this service was both to honor the saints and to mark Good Friday, the death of Jesus.

My host sister, bathed in candle light

Saturday was full of preparations for the following day: my host mom made and decorated pasca, special Easter bread, as well as all of the food for Easter morning.  We also made sure the house and outdoor spaces were perfectly in order.  On Saturday night, my host mom and sister left to go to the church for the all-night service around 8PM.  My host dad and I went to bed, hoping to get some sleep before we got up at 3AM to head to the church as well.  We arrived at the church around 4 in the morning.  The church was packed full of people, and there were several hundred gathered outside and on the nearby roads.  My host dad and I waited outside for a bit before my host sister and host mom found us, and then I was ushered inside the church because my host mom was worried it was cold outside.

Awaiting the priest to bless our food and selves

Inside the church, everything was lit only by candles.  There were songs and scripture readings, and then everyone went in a line so that the priest could put a cross of scented oil on each person’s forehead.  After this part was finished, everyone headed outside and lined the roads near the church.  Each family stood together and had brought a basket full of food and treats to be blessed by the priest.  I couldn’t see everyone, but my host mom told me there were probably about 2,000 plus people there.  As we stood outside, it was still dark and it was also drizzling slightly, so the candles didn’t stay lit very well.  The priest passed by each person twice, first with incense, and then with water.  He dipped a bunch of basil in holy water and then sprayed in over the food gathered in baskets and the people.  It was actually a lot of water- my whole face and front was soaked.

The priest’s procession with Holy water as dawn arrives

After, everyone walked home and broke their fast with a large and heavy meal, complete with wine.  All before 7 in the morning!  Once everyone’s bellies are full, everyone heads to bed and sleeps for the next several hours, then they have another large meal and more wine.  This was repeated once again, after another nap, at night.

Life Lately in Moldova

Green grass, freshly planted gardens, and sunshine; view from our courtyard.

Enjoying Spring: The weather has been absolutely gorgeous outside the past few weeks.  There have been a handful of cooler or rainy days, but for the most part, the days have been warm and sunny.  The winter wasn’t really that long or hard compared to winter in upstate New York, but my mood has definitely been lifted the past few weeks.  Our time changed two weeks after the time change in the United States, so I feel I’m still adjusting to that slightly, but it’s nice that it’s bright in the mornings and evenings now.  Last night we had the first pretty big thunder and lightning storm I’ve seen since coming to Moldova.

The view from the balcony of Peace Corps- flowering trees and green grass.

A Mini “Vacation” to the Capital: This past weekend was busy but good.  I went to the capital to celebrate a fellow volunteer’s birthday party.  While there, I also did a ton of walking and went clothes shopping with another volunteer.  I am not a fan of clothes shopping, especially when I really need something specific, so I was glad to have a friend to go with.  Thankfully, after visiting several stores and lots of walking to those various stores, I did come home with some new clothes.  This was one of the first times I’ve shopped for clothes here, and from what I can tell, a lot of the popular styles seem to be similar to those in America (though I suppose now that I’ve been out of the US for 10 months, those styles may have changed).  Clothes are quite expensive here (especially when you look at people’s salaries) and the quality isn’t great, but you can usually find most things you need without too much of a problem.  To give an idea on prices: I paid the equivalent of about $25USD for a pair of jeans, $10USD for a pair of sweatpants, and $23USD for a dress.  All were on sale.

Our night consisted of a large group of volunteers playing board games.  It was a lot of fun (even if I’m really quite bad at Trivia Pursuit!).  We even had American-style cake with the most delicious chocolate frosting (a rarity here).

Reading in the volunteer lounge.

On Sunday, I went to brunch with some friends and then hung out at the Peace Corps headquarters.  Our volunteer lounge is a couple of floors up and has slanted ceilings and low windows.  It’s really quite cozy and yesterday, I spent some time curled up on a comfy couch in a quiet corner, reading a book while a nice warm breeze came in through the window.

Playing with my host niece. Photo cred: Tatiana S. (my host sister).
Me with my host niece. Photo cred: Tatiana S. (my host sister).

A Visit from My Host Niece: I returned home Sunday afternoon and caught a rutiera along with my host sister and host niece.  When we got home, I played outside with my host niece for awhile.  It was the perfect weather and I was happy to spend some more time outside! A couple of my students walked by while I was doing some exercises with my host niece.  They looked surprised to see me, though maybe it was just because it was the first time they’ve seen me wearing sweatpants!

Skyping with “America”: The last month has been busy with school and secondary projects.  My English Club is still going strong, and we even had a special event where we skyped with my friend’s 3rd grade class in the US.  My students were shocked by how large American classrooms are, that the English alphabet has only 26 letters (the Romanian alphabet has 33, according to my students), and that the students were sitting on the floor (wouldn’t they get dirty??).

Project and Grant Writing: I’ve also been working with a team of individuals from my school to write a grant and project proposal.  The application is due next Saturday, so we’re definitely spending a lot of time weekly working on it!  We’re hoping to renovate, rearrange, and modernize our school library, as well as update our book selection (almost all of the books we currently have are written in Cyrillic, either in Russian or in Romanian, and are from the Soviet Era).

I think that pretty much wraps it up!

The Trek to the Outhouse

As I’ve mentioned before, for the first four months or so at my permanent site, we did not have a bathroom of any sort in the house.  Although many volunteers use outhouse some or most of the time (and they vary greatly from the simplest of squat toilets to rather nice ones that have a seat with a cover), it is a bit more uncommon for volunteers in Moldova to not have indoor plumbing.  I’m very grateful that I now have an indoor toilet and plumbing (no hot water yet, so still bathing, but at least not bucket bathing!) that I get to use all of the time (mostly because I had serious problems with the rooster that liked to attack me).

I recently found some videos and photos on a camera, including a video that showed what my walk to the outhouse looked like back when I still walked there three plus times a day, and I thought I’d share it.  This was taken late last summer.  It was a pretty long walk, through a narrow path between various outbuildings and past the chickens, rooster, ducks, and geese.  You can even get a glimpse of the rooster (though in this video the gate to the coop was closed, so no worry of attack)!

Random Reflections

Coming from upstate New York, I was a little surprised how early spring came here.  Now, spring is in full bloom, with grass starting to sprout up, blossoms on the trees and flowers, warm, sunny days, and gardens and fields being planted.

Last week was particularly warm and beautiful, but a bit windy.  From what I’ve observed and heard, fall is more the rainy season here than spring, but it is raining lightly today.  I’ve enjoyed lazy afternoons sitting on our front steps and absorbing the sunlight.  On Friday, I spent a couple of hours planting potatoes with my host mom.

Yesterday, I had a short training in Chisinau for the volunteers who have been selected to be the mentors for the incoming group of volunteers.  During this meeting, we revisited the “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment”, which is a chart that all volunteers become familiar with over the course of their service.  Basically, as one of our staff members said, “You are very predictable”.  This chart shows the ups and downs of Peace Corps Service and has been found by most volunteers to be very accurate.  The first 0-2 months in country are the “honeymoon” period.  From 1-3 months, we experience mixed culture site and the roller-coaster goes up and down a lot.  Months 3-6 (our first 3 months at our permanent sites) are often times where we are more vulnerable and struggle to adjust.  From 6-12 months (which we are hitting the end of now), most volunteers have adjusted pretty well and experience more of a high.  However, 12-14 months is often a hard time for volunteers, as they often have a “mid-service crisis”.  This is followed by another high for 8 months or so, then the final couple of months are often hard, as volunteers prepare to say goodbye, figure out what’s next, and worry about the future.  An interesting take-away was that just as the new group of volunteers arrive and are in their “honeymoon period”, we will be hitting our “mid-service crisis”.

Peace Corps service is a lot like a roller-coaster, with high highs and low lows.  It can be hard, but it is also so rewarding.  The past couple of weeks have been a mix of both- stressful and hard but also beautiful and good.  I’ve dealt with some of the struggles of being a teacher (whether here in Moldova or back in the United States, those struggles are often the same) but also celebrated some major successes.

I’ve also discovered how much I like teaching middle/high-school aged students, which has continuously been a surprise for me.  Unlike many education volunteers, I studied education in college.  I’d always thought I preferred working with younger, elementary-aged students.  But I’m finding I really enjoy working with my 5-9th grade students here (age equivalent to 6th to 10th grade students in the US).  There are certainly unique challenges to working with pre-teens and teens, but I’m also really liking it.  I started an after-school English Club about a month ago with a number of my 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students and so far it’s been going really well.  I have three different mixed-grade groups (I had so many students sign up it wasn’t possible to do in 1 or even 2 groups), and each group meets once a week for 45 minutes (occasionally up to an hour) after school.  I’ve loved the freedom to create my own curriculum and incorporate more conversational English and group and partner based activities, and I’ve also liked that I have an opportunity to get to know my students better.

I think that’s all for my random reflections today! For those of you in upstate New York, I’m hoping this warm weather will head your way soon!