Sfantul Andrei Traditions

Our very securely bolted gate

Tomorrow (December 13) is a holiday in Moldova that is celebrated on the saint day of Sfantul Andrei.  I think it’s one of the most interesting of Moldovan holidays and there are many varied traditions associated with it, most of which occur tonight.

Of the traditions, the most prominent (and most unusual to us Americans) is the stealing of gates.  The tradition is very old.  Tonight, boys and young men in the village will steal the front gates from the houses of the girl or young woman they like.  They hide the gate and the following morning the girl is supposed to go find the gate and return it to its place.  I’ve been assured (thankfully) that our gate is impossible to remove but I’ve heard numerous stories told by my host family of years past.  One year, before my host dad bolted it so securely there’s no way to remove it, a neighbor boy stole it and hid it in a river bed.  Another gate, this one wooden and therefore lighter and easier to take, was once stolen from a neighbor’s house and was found in a tree at the mayor’s office the next morning.

There are other traditions as well, though many of them are rarely celebrated today.  My host mom remembers several from when she was a girl, though she thinks there were more of them.  Girls would take a rooster from the pen and take it inside.  They’d place it in front of a mirror and put a dish of water and a dish of food in front of it.  If the rooster drank the water first, it meant they would marry a man who liked to drink, but if the rooster ate the food first, it meant their future husband would really like to eat.

Another traditions was to go to the neighborhood well with a group of friends.  At the well, they would fill their mouths with water and then return back to the house with the water still in their mouth.  They would then mix the water with various flours and grains to make little biscuits.  These were placed in a line in front of a dog.  If the dog chose your biscuit to eat first, it meant you’d be the first to marry.

Yet another tradition was to take thin wooden poles/branches and decorate them and place them outside overnight.  If the pole had warped or twisted, it meant your future husband wouldn’t be very handsome, but if it remained straight, it meant your husband would be very good looking.

While these traditions seem a bit strange to an American, my host mom remembers them fondly and my students are looking forward to the holiday.  My host mom said I’m the only “domnișoara” (unmarried young woman) in the neighborhood, so we’ll see if anyone tries to steal our gate tonight!

Constelatia Talentelor (Constellation of Talents)

Last Friday I was at school and heading to a class when Doamna Angela, a 3rd grade teacher, approached me and asked if I was busy that afternoon and evening.  Doamna Angela and her husband, Alexandru, run the traditional music and dance school in our village.  I told her I didn’t have plans and she asked me if I had my camera with me (I did).  “Perfect!” she said, “Will you come with the dance ensemble to a competition in Chisinau and film it?”  I absolutely love the rare opportunities to watch the dance ensemble, made up of about 20 8th through 9th grade students I teach at school, so I immediately said yes.

I’ll be honest- I really didn’t know any details when I said yes except that we would be leaving right after my class and that it was in Chisinau.  On the bus on the way to Chisinau, Angela and Alexandru said that we were going to a festival and competition called Constellation of Talents and that it was an international talent competition.  My students didn’t end up performing until almost 10 in the evening (the video above), but I got to hang out with the group until then and watch the rest of the concert and competition.  There were at least 13 countries represented, mostly from Eastern Europe but also from Vietnam and a group from an African country.

There were various categories including modern dance, traditional dance, singing, verbal art (poetry), and modelling.  Our group was competing in the traditional dance category.  Groups that the judges felt did a good job on the first and second days of the competition were called back to compete in the final round on Sunday.  My students did a fantastic job on Friday, and though I didn’t accompany them, were called back on Sunday, and won grand prize!!  They also received invitations to two other international competitions, one in Romania, and one in Bulgaria.  My students were so excited to tell me that they had won when I saw them in class on Monday!  They work incredibly hard and are so incredibly talented!  I am so proud of them!

Language Day

Some of my students make cotton candy

Each year, Moldova celebrates two major holidays during the last week of August.  Independence Day is celebrated on August 27th, and Language Day, a celebration of the Romanian language, is celebrated on August 31st.  Last year, I attended Independence Day celebrations in Chisinau, but this year I celebrated the two holidays in my village, along with my sister who was visiting from the USA.

This year, my village did a large, combined celebration for both holidays held on the 28th.  There was a ceremony to dedicate a new plaque on the side of our casa de cultura (literally, cultural house, but more like a community center), a large masă (celebration with food and wine), various singing and dancing performances, and competitions.  The students from the music and dance school in our village performed a routine I hadn’t seen before.

One of the baking competition winners receiving her diploma

For the first time, our village had a competition of the best cow in the village as well as the best homemade brînză (sheep, goat, or cow cheese made at home), smântână (sour cream), unt (butter), frişcă (cream), various cakes and other pastries, and pâine (bread).

Pole Climbing Competition Winner

After the singing and dancing had concluded, the boys and men in the village participated in sports competitions.  Younger boys competed to climb to the top of a tall metal pole (that we estimated to be about 50 feet tall, at least) the fastest, men and older boys competed in a volleyball game, and boys of all ages competed in a wrestling match.  The winner of the pole climbing competition, Vadim, won a live rooster, while the winner of the wrestling match won a live sheep.

Amir (my new site mate), me, my students, and my school director. (Photo Credit: Heather Ogden)

It was a lot of fun and a cool celebration of Moldovan traditions and customs.  I was really glad my sister was able to go with me and get a taste of a Moldovan holiday and celebration.

Thanks to my sister, Heather, for a few of the photos featured here!

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!

Some Facts About Costești (My Temporary Home)

Costesti

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have moved in with my host family in the town of Costeşti, with is southwest of Chisinau.  On Tuesday, we went to the “hub” site in Chisinau.  There, our language instructors taught us a bit more about Costeşti.

  • Costeşti has a population of over 12,000 people.  This is very large by Moldovan standards.  It is the second largest rural community in Moldova.
  • We are staying in Costeşti Ialoveni (Ialoveni is the raion, or district, that Costeşti is located within).  There are two other smaller villages in Moldova with the same name, and about 20 villages in nearby Romania with the same name.
  • There are over 12 separate neighborhoods.
  • The Botna River runs through Costeşti.  Some people fish on the river, but the river is polluted, so we have been told to absolutely NEVER eat fish caught on the river.
  • The village is 444 years old.  May 22nd was the village’s celebration, which is called “Hram”.  Each village celebrates its own “Hram”, on different days.
  • There are orthodox churches in Costeşti.  Both churches have existed hundreds of years, but one was rebuilt about 200 years ago, and is considered the “new” church.
  • The village has 2 high schools (ages 15-18), 1 middle school (7-14), and 4 “kindergartens”.
  • The town has two resorts, both with lakes and swimming pools (a big luxury in Moldova).  These are both pretty fancy an expensive and bring money into the local economy.
  • The village has a public library, many stores and cafes, a small winery, several mills and bakeries, and is also agricultural.  The village exports fruits and vegetables.
  • The village has a very active female mayor (one of the other volunteers is staying with the mayor’s daughter’s family).
  • There are numerous active cultural folk groups- plenty of bands, and even a music school with 50 students.

It was cool to learn more about our village and see some pictures of places in town we haven’t seen yet.