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!

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!

Spring is Coming

Our road earlier this week
Our road earlier this week (I have to cross through the worst of the mud to get to my front gate, which is shown here on the right)

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.

The nice, thick mud on the way home
The nice, thick mud on the way home

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.

Our road yesterday: it's starting to dry out a bit, but that's still a lot of mud!
Our road yesterday: it’s starting to dry out a bit, but that’s still a lot of mud!

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.