Here in Moldova, June 1st is both the first day of summer vacation from school and Children’s Day, which is celebrated as a main holiday. Some towns have begun to celebrate Children’s Day on the last day of school once school has been released, but my village still celebrates it on June 1st.
It’s a day of games, singing, dancing, and free ice cream for kids! In my village, we celebrated at our park, which is fairly new (when I visited for my site visit last July, the “park” was just a wide open space, but now we have a large playground, swings, and even a small pavilion).
The day started by a performance by 2nd grade students and continued with various singing and dance performances, including some by our traditional music and dance school.
The last performance was by a group of graduating 9th grade students, who performed the same dance they did on the last day of school.
After the scheduled performances, there was an open mic competition for poetry and singing, as well as a chalk drawing competition. These were judged by teachers from our school and there were several winners in each category, all of whom received some small prizes (balls, notebooks, drawing pads, and pens).
It was a beautiful day and most of the activities were set up in the shade. I really enjoyed the day and it was nice to see everyone enjoying the celebrations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Having been in Moldova for nearly nine months, I feel like I’ve more or less settled into life here. Don’t be fooled- it really does take quite a bit of time. It feels like the past 9 months have flown by even though many days go rather slowly. Last weekend, we had a language training for two days in the capital. Although it was nice to catch up with Peace Corps friends and the training was useful, I was glad to return home to my village on Sunday afternoon.
On my way to catch my rutiera (mini-bus) back to Festelita, I ran into another volunteer that lives near me here in Moldova. She is also from New York and we chatted for a few minutes along the side of the road. It was a beautiful spring-like day, and she asked me what I had thought about my first Moldovan winter. She mentioned that, being from New York, it hadn’t seemed too bad. Besides my school building being a bit colder than I’m used to, I have to agree with her. It was a relatively mild winter and besides one very cold week in January, the temperatures haven’t been too bad. The one thing I am not as used to in the United States is the ice here. Without salt to sprinkle on it, the roads and sidewalks (where they exist) are solid sheets of ice all winter here.
This week seems to have welcomed spring in. In Moldova, spring is believed to start on March 1st, and the first little flowers have begun peeking out from the little remaining snow. The temperatures are warmer, the snow and ice has melted, and everything is a muddy mess. Even coming from a smaller rural community in the United States, I’ve never seen mud like this! I’ve almost lost one or both shoes so many times. It is deep and sticky and impossible to avoid! I’m thankful to have host parents that are generally willing to walk with me to the post office, where the paved road begins, each morning in order to switch from rubber boots to the boots I wear at school. When I return, though, my boots get covered! Washing your shoes and boots is a daily occurrence here.
With the welcoming of spring also comes a handful of celebrations and holidays. Today is Dragobete. From what I understand, this is a holiday that celebrates both love and the welcoming of spring. For more information, check out this Wikipedia page.
March first is Mărţişor. People give one another small pins, which represent peace and love, to wear on their coats and shirts and celebrate the beginning of spring. These pins are worn throughout the month of March for good luck. At the end of the month, the mărţişor are placed on trees branches.
8th March, International Women’s Day, is a very large and important holiday here to honor women. There is no school on this day, and poems, songs, and dances are performed. Women are not supposed to work on this day and are given presents.
Orthodox Easter will be celebrated on April 16th this year. Although usually a different date than Catholic and Protestant Easter, this year it is the same day. This the most important and celebrated holiday in the year. Most people fast for the 40 days of lent. Those that strictly obey the fasting rules do not eat meat, oil, butter, milk, or other animal products (though I believe honey is allowed).
One week after Easter, Pastele Blajinilor (or Memorial Easter) is celebrated. Everyone goes to the cemetery, bringing wine and lots of food. There is a big meal, and each family brings gifts (a towel, a special bread, a bowl with candies, a candle, and a box of matches) for each loved one that has passed. The priest goes to each grave to bless loved ones who have passed, and then a glass of wine is poured over the grave.
One of the things I’ve noticed since coming to Moldova is that just because we don’t celebrate many international holidays (International Day of Peace, International Women’s Day, International Teacher’s Day) very much in the United States, they are actually a pretty big deal elsewhere. Two Wednesdays ago (October 5th) was International Teacher’s Day, which is widely celebrated in Moldova. Here, it is called Ziua Profesorului. Usually, this day is celebrated at the school with shorter lessons followed by a concert given by students and then a masa (special meal) and party for just the teachers.
My raion (district) had a special day in the raion center, so my school waited to celebrate until Friday, while about 10 of the teachers, including me, headed to the raion center for the “celebrations” there. The first 2 hours of the celebration consisted of the giving of various certificates to teachers from throughout the raion. As each teacher made their way to the stage, they played music and there was an over-all joyous sound to the music. My favorite was an Abba song. I also found the synchronized clapping from everyone in the audience a bit amusing. Once all the certificates had been handed out, the event turned into a concert. Various groups of students and teachers sang, danced, and played instruments.
My town has a really good traditional music and dance school, and my students were the last act of the event. About 30 of my students danced, and another 2 accompanied the dancers with instruments. They did an amazing job and I was so proud of them. I may be biased, but I think they were the best act of the concert. They’re talented! It was also a reminder that many of my students have a lot things taking up their time after school hours. Many of the students that are in the dance group are also the students that almost always have their homework completed. I realized that sometimes, when they haven’t completed their homework, they may have just not had the time to do so, even if they wanted to.
On Friday, our classes ended a bit earlier than usual, and all of the teachers gathered in the cantina (cafeteria/auditorium). One of the 8th grade classes had prepared a number of poems and songs, which they performed, and then they gave each of us a rose. They headed out, and then our masa began. There are about 20 teachers at my school, and I think almost everyone was there. The teachers had all pitched in money and had helped prepare the food. It was a nice, fancy masa, despite being held at school. And, of course, there was plenty of champagne and wine to go around! Towards the end of the meal, several of the older teachers decided everyone needed to sing a song together (it was either a song about school in general, or a school song). About halfway through the song I realized I didn’t recognize any of the words being sung. After, my partner teacher explained it was in Russian. Overall, it was a yummy, fun masa.