A Weekend Trip: Chisinau and Criuleni

Cathedral Park, Chisinau
Cathedral Park, Chisinau
Cathedral Park, Chisinau
Cathedral Park, Chisinau

Two weeks ago on Friday, I headed to Chisinau and then on to Criuleni, where we had a yoga retreat.  When I arrived in Chisinau, it was snowing lightly, so I decided to walk around the city a bit to kill some time before I headed further north to Criuleni.

The Arc de Triomf, Cathedral Park, Chisinau
The Arc de Triomf, Cathedral Park, Chisinau
Stefan cel Mare monument in Stefan cel Mare Park, Chisinau
Stefan cel Mare monument in Stefan cel Mare Park, Chisinau

As I walked, it started snowing pretty hard, which made everything very beautiful and quiet.  I spent some time walking some streets in Chisinau, and then decided to walk through the two main parks in the center of Chisinau: Cathedral Park and Stefan cel Mare Park.  Both were covered in a light dusting of snow with more coming down.  I took my time and just really enjoyed the cool air, big snowflakes, and the quiet lull that always occurs when it snows.

The Arc de Triomf and the beginning of Christmas decorations, Chisinau
The Arc de Triomf and the beginning of Christmas decorations, Chisinau

By the Arc de Triomf in the center of Chisinau, a huge real Christmas tree had been set up and decorated and for a minute I watched as an older gentleman took selfies with his young grandson.  It was a beautiful and almost magical morning.

The Nistru
The Nistru

Later on Friday, I headed to Criuleni, which is in the north of Moldova.  A couple of volunteers have hosted a number of yoga retreats over the past year with other volunteers, but this was the first one I had attended.  Although I have done some yoga over the past few years, I am definitely in the beginner category, and I was a little nervous about going to a retreat, but also excited to get motivated to do some yoga and spend time with other volunteers.  It ended up being a really small group, and I learned a lot and had a great time.

The Nistru
The Nistru

Two volunteers hosted us in their home, since they live in their own apartment.  We had a nice space to do yoga in and shared some delicious meals, which they graciously made for us.  The menu included: chili and cornbread, banana chocolate-filled pancakes, a pizza bar (make-your-own), a delicious vegetarian casserole and mashed potatoes, and an oatmeal bar.

The Nistru
The Nistru

On Saturday, in a break from yoga, two of us accompanied our hosts on a walk through the town and along the Nistru River.  The river was gorgeous!  The other side of the river is Transnistria, the part of Moldova that self-proclaims it is an independent nation (but is not recognized by either Moldova or the UN to be so).  It was a chilly but not cold day, and we walked back to the apartment just as the sun was setting.  We even encountered a tiny bit of hail as we were within sight of the apartment building.

The Nistru
The Nistru

The weekend as a whole was really great, and I’m glad I went.  I met some new people, ate some great food, learned some new poses (including downward facing dog with a partner!), and enjoyed getting to explore another part of Moldova.

A Look Back: The First Six Months

Today marks six months in Moldova.  I know it’s cliche, but it’s really, truly hard to believe that I have already been in this beautiful country for six months, for one half of a year.  I remember sitting on the plane as it took off from JFK airport and thinking, “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this!”.  I was excited and nervous and had no idea what was to come.  Here’s a recap of my first half year in Moldova.

Month 1: June.

june-2016-collage

We landed in Moldova and were greeted by Peace Corps staff and volunteers at the airport.  We then spent 2 days in Chisinau getting adjusted, then moved to our pre-service training sites.  I got my first bee sting while waiting to be taken to meet my host family, and broke out the med kit for the first time.  We met our host families, got settled into our new rooms, and used the four or five rehearsed Romanian sentences we had learned.  Over the next month, we spent our mornings learning Romanian and our afternoons doing technical trainings.  We gained new friends, sweated more than we ever had before in our lives, and struggled through long days of training.  We figured out the public transportation system and got more or less used to rutieras.  I use my first outhouse, and then my first public squat toilet (ew!).  I attended my first Moldovan wedding.  We visited three gorgeous monasteries.  We also visited the National Museum of Natural History and Ethnography.  We attended several hub sites, where we learned about health and security and received our rabies vaccines.  At the end of the month, we had our site announcements, when we found out where we would live for our two years of service!

Month 2: July.

july-2016-collage

We had our Site Team Conferences (with our school directors) and visited our sites for the first time.  I fell in love with Festelita and visited a nearby monastery.  We drew monsters in class, I spent a lot of time with my host brothers, and I laughed with my host mom about elephant green tea.  I visited Festelita again to meet my new host family.  I cut my hair, celebrated another volunteer’s birthday, and played with our kittens.  We began practice school, and we had our swearing in ceremony, officially becoming Peace Corps Volunteers.

Month 3: August.

august-2016-collage

We completed practice school and had a mini-carnival to celebrate.  I helped my brother harvest onions, went to the Chisinau zoo with my host family, taught my host mom how to play Uno, and learned to laugh at a number of small mishaps (my host family’s kitten falling into the outhouse hole, the same kitten getting in a fight and injuring his paw, and my host mom backing the car into the garage staircase).  We had our final language class (and tried not to cry).  Our language instructor, Galina wrote us poems and we had a crash course on Moldovan history.  I packed my bags and had one last celebration with my training host family.  We loaded up all our belongings and moved to our permanent sites to start our next chapter.  I spent many days in the school’s library and attended a school open house.  I adjusted to village life, got to know my new host family, and started taking bucket baths.  I also read over ten books in two weeks and celebrated Moldova’s Independence Day in Chisinau.

Month 4: September.

september-2016-collage

We had the first day of school, and I began teaching English.  I took a surprise day trip up north for my host niece’s baptism.  I continued to adjust to life in Moldova and in my village.  I experienced an earthquake, read many more books, and spent many hours alone.  I also spent each evening talking to my host mom after dinner.

Month 5: October.

october-2016-collage

I went to Chisinau for a Tech4Dev meeting and ATIP Auction and attended the National Day of Wine while there.  I went to my raion center for the first time, watched my students do traditional dances, and celebrated National Teacher’s Day.  I continued to teach English at school, and still had lots of free time.  I made another trip to Chisinau and spent time with my host mom’s sisters and daughters, as well as attended a luncheon at the Ambassador’s residence.  My host family continued to work on the kitchen and bathroom renovations, and I was attacked by our rooster several times.  I spent many cool nights bundled up in my blankets, thankful for our soba (stove), and spent many evening talking with my host mom over sunflower seeds and ice cream.

Month 6: November.

november-2016-collage

One of my partner teachers began her maternity leave and my schedule changed once again.  We had our fall vacation.  All of the M31 EE volunteers gathered in Chisinau for one week of IST (in-service training) for both language and technical trainings.  We learned the results of the United States election and cried and hugged each other, and then Moldova had its own elections.  I taught a few classes completely or partly on my own.  I ordered a new camera (hopefully arriving soon), and had less free time than before.  I called my grandparents on Thanksgiving, thus making my first international phone call.  I spent the weekend after Thanksgiving taking a surprise trip to Ungheni in the north to celebrate with other volunteers and drank plenty of house wine.  I made my first cookies in Moldova and shared them with my 7th grade classes as part of a lesson about making cookies.  Nina from Peace Corps came for my first site visit to see how things are going and I observed a Romanian lesson.  I got more comfortable teaching and felt like a real teacher again.

I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten to spend the past half year exploring the culture and landscapes of Moldova and that I get to spend another one and a half years here.  If the past six months are any indication, my time here is going to fly by more quickly than I can imagine!

My First Peace Corps Thanksgiving

Ungheni

This past week was the first time I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving abroad, without my family.  The actual day of Thanksgiving was almost like any other day here.  I went to school, taught 5 lessons, several of which didn’t go particularly well, then planned with my partner for several hours after school.  At one point I was a little sad and homesick as I thought about what I was missing at home, but I had the opportunity to skype briefly with my family in the United States, which helped a bit.  Then, right before bed, I managed to catch my grandparents on the phone for a quick conversation.  It was my first time talking to them in over 3 months, and I miss them very much, so I was grateful for the 30 free minutes of international calls each month we get on our Peace Corps plan.

I hadn’t planned to celebrate with other volunteers, mostly because I had some work to do at home and have travel planned for next weekend, and I just thought I could use a quiet weekend at home.  On Friday, I had to go to the capital to pick up some medication and while at Peace Corps, I ran into another volunteer.  She encouraged me to come to the north of Moldova for the weekend to celebrate with a group of volunteers.  In the end, her promise of mac and cheese won me over, and after a quick phone call to my host mom to make sure it was okay, I headed to the northern bus station and hopped on a rutiera to Ungheni.  Ungheni is located in the northwestern part of the country, about two hours from Chisinau in the opposite direction of my town.  We lucked out in terms of transportation: we arrived at the station five minutes before our rutiera was due to leave, bought tickets, and then were granted two seats in the front row with the driver.  They were real seats like you might find in a car, and they were very comfortable and provided us with an excellent view.

We arrived in Ungheni and met up with a couple of other volunteers, all of whom I hadn’t met before.  We had some drinks, went grocery shopping for the feast the following day, and grabbed some pizza at a local restaurant.  We then headed to one of the volunteer’s houses, where we spent several hours eating, drinking, and talking with his very generous and kind host parents.

Aaron, one of the other volunteers, attempting to play the accordion
Aaron, one of the other volunteers, attempting to play the accordion

On Saturday, we headed to the house of another volunteer to prepare our feast.  Our menu included: mac and cheese, barbequed chicken legs, gumbo (made by a native Louisian), mashed potatoes, an Italian casserole dish, homemade cookies, bruschetta, house wine and other house alcohol, as well as some store-bought beer.  We cooked and baked most of the day, and then sat down to enjoy our feast.  There were eight volunteers, and three host family members.  The food was delicious and mostly American, the wine was plenty, and the company was great.  The host dad that had allowed us to use his kitchen and host the feast in his house even played the accordion for us and one of the volunteers played guitar.

Towards the end of the night, one of the volunteers skyped with his grandmother in the United States, who had immigrated from Poland.  Our Moldovan host played, at his request, a Polish song on the accordion, which was a very special moment that involved three languages, plenty of translation, and some tears.

Ungheni

The next morning we played some Bananagrams over breakfast, then walked through the town to the lake, which was peaceful and chilly before heading back home.  Although my trip home was long and not-so-pleasant, I was glad I went and enjoyed a great weekend with new friends.

Cultural Excursion: National Museum of Ethnography and Natural History

Inside the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
Inside the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
Beautiful sculpture inside the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
Beautiful sculpture inside the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
The main entrance room at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
The main entrance room at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science

As I mentioned in my last post, we got the opportunity to visit the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural History in Chisinau yesterday.  The museum was quite large, and had some great exhibitions, but it also has little funding.  It is housed in a beautiful, old building.  The architecture was quite stunning but building is also in need of repair and such.

A topographical model of all of Moldova at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
A topographical model of all of Moldova at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
One of the beautiful murals at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
One of the beautiful murals at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science, showing the flora and fauna of Moldova
The Deinotherium, commonly called "hoe tusker" was a prehistoric mammal resembling an elephant- this is the largest skeleton of a Deinotherium in the world, and was found in Moldova
The Deinotherium, commonly called “hoe tusker”, was a prehistoric mammal resembling an elephant- this is the largest skeleton of a Deinotherium in the world, and was found in Moldova
Painted image of the Deinotherium at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
Painted image of the Deinotherium at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science

The museum had a pretty impressive collection related to natural history, which eventually led to the ethnography exhibits.  Essentially, as you wove your way through the museum, you first went through the natural history exhibits, and those led naturally to the ethnography exhibits.  There was a room of animals that once lived in Moldova but are now extinct, as well as an exhibit on the various types of soil that are found in Moldova.

A display in the ethnography section of the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science, showing a traditional casa mare (a special room in the house where the dowry was kept)
A display in the ethnography section of the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science, showing a traditional casa mare (a special room in the house where the dowry was kept)
An exhibit of a traditional Moldovan wedding at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
An exhibit of a traditional Moldovan wedding at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
An exhibit on the destruction of nature in Moldova caused by chemicals and pesticides, and showing mutated animals with two heads at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
An exhibit on the destruction of nature in Moldova caused by chemicals and pesticides, and showing mutated animals with two heads at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science

There were also exhibits showing how people have lived in Moldova from the Middle Ages forward, with traditional textiles, early ceramics, building techniques, furniture that was found in homes at different points in history, an exhibit on early musicians, and much more!  There was a large exhibit showing a traditional Moldovan wedding, as well as how Soviet rule affected many of the traditional aspects of Moldovan life.

A mural in the dinosaur exhibition room at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
A mural in the dinosaur exhibition room at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
Another great mural at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science, showing animals living after the extinction of the dinosaurs but before human arrival
Another great mural at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science, showing animals living after the extinction of the dinosaurs but before human arrival
Another symbolic mural at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science
Another symbolic mural at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science

Something that I found particularly interesting were the amazing murals that accompanied almost every exhibit.  Although some were realistic, many were quite symbolic.

Wall #1 of the mural room at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science (showing the big bang and the creation of the earth)
Wall #1 of the mural room at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science (showing the big bang and the creation of the earth)
Wall #2 of the mural room at National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science (showing the natural environment before human arrival)
Wall #2 of the mural room at National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science (showing the natural environment before human arrival)
Wall #3 of the mural room at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science (showing humans and nature living in harmony)
Wall #3 of the mural room at the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science (showing humans and nature living in harmony- Mother Nature is the ghost-like white figure in the middle)
Wall #4 of the mural room at National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science (showing the destruction of the earth by humans)
Wall #4 of the mural room at National Museum of Ethnography and Natural Science (showing the destruction of the earth by humans)

There was even one room that was just a huge mural on all four walls!  The mural showed the progression of the earth’s history from the big bang to humans destroying the nature.  It reminded me a lot of some of the landscape paintings I learned about in my American Art class this past winter.

I really enjoyed my first museum visit in Moldova.  It was really interesting to see the natural history of the country as well as the human history of the country!

Cultural Excursion: Moldovan Monasteries

Yesterday, following our language classes in the morning, the Peace Corps staff here in Moldova organized a cultural excursion to visit three Moldovan monasteries.  At each monastery, we went in the churches, explored the grounds, and a priest/monk/nun told us a bit about their faith and the history of the monastery.

The first monastery we visited was Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry in Suruceni, which is a monastery of nuns.

The pretty gardens at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry
The pretty gardens at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry
Another building at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry
Another building at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry
Nuns' quarters at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry
Nuns’ quarters at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry
Inside the church at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry
Inside the church at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry
Inside the church at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry
Inside the church at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry
Inside the church at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry
Inside the church at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry

The main church was built between 1825 and 1828.  In addition to being a monastery, the grounds have also housed schools, an orphanage, and housed carpenters, blacksmiths, and shoesmiths.  The monastery was closed in 1959 under Soviet rule.  All of the icons, books, and vestments were either destroyed or removed.  The monastery became a hospital for narcology patients.  St. George church was used as a club with a stage.  St. Nicholas church, the other church on the property, was used as a hospital and the sanctuary was a surgery ward.  The monastery reopened in 1991 as a monastery of nuns.  Renovation work has been conducted, but work still needs to be done.

After our visit at Sfantul Gheorghe Monastry, we headed to Sfantul Nicolae Monastry in Condrita.

On the grounds of Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
On the grounds of Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The two churches at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The two churches at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The main church at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The main church at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The main church at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The main church at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The main church at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The main church at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The only remaining parts of the paintings that originally covered the walls and ceiling.
The only remaining parts of the paintings that originally covered the walls and ceiling.
The altar at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The altar at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
Lighting of candles at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
Lighting of candles at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry

It is believed that the monastery was started sometime around 1783.  By 1946, much of the monastery was occupied by a local forestry school.  In 1947, the monastery closed.  It was a forestry school until 1960, and then a camp until 1993, when it reopened.  During Soviet rule, all of the icons were destroyed except for two, which the remaining monks smuggled off the grounds.  The murals of the main church were destroyed or painted over during this time as well.

The stone church at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The stone church at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The above-ground sanctuary at the second church at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The above-ground sanctuary at the second church at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The above-ground sanctuary at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
The above-ground sanctuary at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
Gorgeous ceiling at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
Gorgeous ceiling at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
Near the entrance at the second church at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
Underground sanctuary at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
Underground sanctuary at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
Underground Sanctuary at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry
Underground Sanctuary at Sfantul Nicolae Monastry

The monastery has two churches- the main church, which is in a bit worse of shape, and a second church, which has both an above-ground and underground sanctuary.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church

The third monastery we visited is one of the largest and oldest monasteries in Moldova: Capriana Monastry.  The monastery consists of three churches, including the oldest in Moldova.   The oldest church, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, was built between 1420 and 1425.  It is believed to have been built by the father of Stefan cel Mare (the ruler during those years and most popular person in Moldovan history- every town and village has a street named after him and a statue of him). The church has been restored several times due to powerful earthquakes.

Capriana Monastery
St. Georges Cathedral
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral
St. Georges Cathedral

Another of the churches is St. George’s Cathedral, which was built in the late Baroque style (which is very unusual for Moldova).   This church was built in 1907.  The monastery was confiscated by Soviet troops in 1940, but continued to function until 1962, when it was closed.  One of the churches became a House of Culture, another was a hospital for children suffering tuberculosis, and the third housed pesticides.  The monastery reopened in 1989.

All of the monasteries were so peaceful and quiet and relaxing.  They were also so beautiful!  It was also really interesting to learn more about how Soviet rule affected religion and religious buildings.