Best Friends

Me with my host niece and best friend, Valerica, last spring

Life as a Peace Corps volunteer challenges a lot of notions we have about how life should be.  One example: my best friend in Moldova for the past two years? She just turned 8 yesterday. A lot of other volunteers’ best friends in Moldova are also much younger or much older. In a lot of Moldovan villages and even larger towns, there aren’t a lot of younger adults, since many of them are working and living abroad. Since the majority of volunteers are in their 20s (though there are also others in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s!), this means that most of us have friends that are either kids or significantly older than us.

For many of us, some of our first friends at site are kids. Why? Kids don’t see the barriers that many adults might- they are open, friendly, and don’t care how well we speak their language. Play, whether tag or hide-and-seek, is an international language. Kids are also patient and naturally helpful. And so many of the first relationships volunteers develop with locals are with kids.

In my case, my best (and first) friend at site is my now-8-year-old host niece Valerica. She was six when we first met, on the day I moved to my village. She came to pick me up from the capital with my host mom (her grandma).

When we arrived in my village, she took my hand and said, “Let’s play!”. My host mom often tells others about how she was so nervous when I first moved in, saying “I thought she [me] would be so bored and lonely. And she only spoke a bit of Romanian! But Valerica just started playing with her, and it wasn’t a problem at all!”

She doesn’t live in my village, but visits during the school breaks and spent much of last summer here. She is cute, funny, smart, energetic, and loves to spend every minute with me. One of her favorite activities is to pretend to be a fotomodel or model and have me be her photographer. I usually indulge her.

I will miss her so much when I leave, but I hope she’s old enough that she will remember me. And I hope that someday she can come visit me in the United States!

Moldovan Wedding #2

The bride (in red, a bit nontraditional) and groom (in white) cut the cake with their nanasi.
As in America, there is a tradition for the bride and groom to feed each other cake.
The wedding cakes.

I was fortunate to attend my first Moldovan wedding just 3 weeks after I arrived in-country in 2016 (read about the wedding here).  That time, my host parents were the new couple’s nanași (wedding godparents), so I was able to be super involved in the entire event: I helped the bride get dressed and ready, saw the traditions that occur at the bride’s parents’ house before the actual wedding, went to the church ceremony (normally only the immediate family members, maid of honor/best man, and nanași attend that), helped set up for the wedding reception, and was even in the official wedding photos!  I’m pretty sure I may have been the equivalent of a bridesmaid, though I didn’t know I was going to be one.

Most of my host mom’s extended family (minus most of the nieces and nephews).
My host mom with her siblings and their spouses, plus some of the kids.

This past weekend, after a year and a half of living here, I went to my second Moldovan wedding.  This time, my host cousin (my host mom’s nephew) got married and we only went to the wedding reception.  It was a simple reception, with a fairly simple meal and some dancing.  I enjoyed spending time with my host mom’s extended family, who are all very nice and welcoming.  They often say I am “their American” even though I’ve only met some of them once or twice.  My host nieces were there as well and I don’t get to see them often, so I was happy they were able to make it.

Me with my host mom and her siblings and their spouses.
Me with my host mom and one of my host nieces.

I had a good time, and was so happy to be included in this special family moment.

Travel in Moldova: My Village

My host family with my parents
My host family, my parents, and me

After flying to Moldova, my parents drove their rented car to my village, where we spent the next three days.  This was one of the best parts of our trip, not because of all the cool sites we saw (although there were visits to our public library, my school, and walks to some sunflower fields) but because my American parents were able to meet and spend time with my Moldovan family and see the place that has been my home for a year.

My dad with one of my host nieces
My mom with another host niece

They got to see what my daily life is like, see firsthand how lucky I was to be placed with my host family, and visit the places in town I see every week.  They got to experience the joy of no running water (I usually do have running water and since living here, my host family has even installed an indoor toilet and shower, but there was a problem with our village’s water system while my parents were visiting, so it was all outhouse and bucket bathing for us!), eat the food my host mom prepares, play with my host nieces, and drink house wine.

Sunflowers on a drive through my village the first day
A dinner toast

Three of my young host nieces (ages 2, 4, and 7) were staying with my host parents when my parents were here, and we spent a lot of time playing with them and coloring.  Each night at dinner, I could barely get a bite to eat because I was so busy translating all of the conversations from English to Romanian and Romanian to English.  There were exchanges of gifts: my host parents gave my actual parents bottles of wine to take home and some little trinkets, my actual parents gave my host mom some oven mitts and an apron and my host dad a multi-tool.

My parents with the librarian and an assistant in the public library
My parents with the public librarian and an assistant, in the Casa de Cultura

We visited the public library, where my parents were treated like honored guests.  The librarian and an assistant presented them with the customary loaf of bread with salt, welcoming them and wishing them health and happiness.  We also toured the entire casa de cultura (cultural house), including the auditorium, music and dance school, and wedding hall, as well as the library.  After, we shared tea and cookies with the library staff.  Later, we visited my school and I got to show them where I spent a large chunk of time each day during the school year.

Our walk to the sunflower fields
Our walk to the sunflower fields
Overlooking my village

We walked through my village, and I showed them where the stores are, as well as the mayor’s office, preschool, sports fields, post office, church, and cemetery.  On our last evening, we walked to some fields at the outskirts of town to see the views of the village and the never-ending fields of sunflowers and wheat.  As we returned, we ran into one of the women who cleans my school and we chatted for a short while.

My mom, host mom, and the girls before saying goodbye

Though it was wonderful to see my parents interact with my host family, it was also a bit bittersweet.  When it was time to say goodbye, there were plenty of teary eyes.  We all knew that this is likely the only time my real parents and my Moldovan parents will ever meet.  I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have a host family that truly treats me as if I am their daughter.  As we said goodbye, my host mother thanked my parents for raising me in the way that they did, and my real parents thanked my host parents for welcoming me into their family and treating me so well.  And then we went on our way.

Travel in Moldova: Overview

Our trip to Romania was book ended by time spent in Moldova, where I live and work.  Because our time in Moldova was split into two parts, the posts will not be in any particular order.  When my parents arrived, they first came to my village for a few days to spend some time with my host family and get to know my community.

During the rest of our time in Moldova we saw a lot and traveled quite a bit: visiting Soroca, Orhei Vechi and Ţîpova Monastery in the north of the country, Purcari Winery and Comrat in the south-east and south of the country, and Chisinau and Cricova Winery in the center.  Thankfully, Moldova is a very small country, so you can see a lot in a short amount of time.

Although I had been to several of the places we visited, there were a few that I experienced for the first time, including Soroca, both wineries, and Comrat.  And although it was wonderful to travel to Romania, our time in Moldova was particularly special to me.  After living here for a year, I really enjoyed the opportunity to show my parents around the community and country that have become home for me.  As cheesy as it may sound, I’ve fallen in love with this place and these people, and to be able to share that with my parents was really special.

Happy Women’s Day!

If I were asked to name of all of the people here in Moldova who have so helped my experience here a positive one, the list would be long.  One person in particular stands out, though: my host mom.  In August, she (and her husband) welcomed me into their home with open arms.  It take long for her to become my best friend here.  I live in a small village with very few people (especially single ones) my age.  I have been so incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful host mom; she is truly my second mom.

Almost every single night, we sit together and eat dinner and talk, often for hours.  She does my laundry by hand, helps me clean my room, and makes most of my meals.  She buys and makes foods just for me because she knows I like them.  She comes home from each trip to the store with a bag of Albinite, my favorite candy here.  This morning, she gave me a bouquet of flowers to celebrate women’s day and I was touched that she had remembered I had said I love yellow flowers.  When I’m upset or frustrated, she listens to me complain.  She helps me improve my Romanian each and every day.  We’ve talked about everything under the sun, even topics that are often taboo here.  We’ve laughed until we’ve cried.  

Thank you, Tanta Eugenia, for making my time here in Moldova such a beautiful experience.