Sunday, March 11, 2007

Happy Holidays!

December 28, 2006

Happy Holidays everyone! Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah etc. and have a healthy, prosperous New Year!
The holiday season in Moldova is just getting underway- they use the old Orthodox calendar instead of the Gregorian one most of us use in the U.S. The fist holiday celebrated here is New Years on December 31st. New Years is celebrated similarly to the way Christmas is celebrated in the U.S. Each family has a “yulke”, which is a version of our Christmas tree, decorated with ornaments, shiny metalic garland, and lights. On New Years Eve, the Russian “Det Mosorose” accompanied by his granddaughter, “Sneguchka” (translated as “Grandfather Frost” and “Snowgirl”) visit each home and leave presents for the children under the yulke. The family has a big meal; ours will be lamb, with lots of champagne, hommade wine, and cognac after midnight on the 31st and then also during the day on January 1st. January 7th is Christmas Day, which is more of a religious holiday than New Years which is secular. Altar boys carol from house to house during the day and are greeted into the home with candy and money. A huge meal is eaten together in the afternoon, again with champagne, wine and cognac. The next day the process is repeated, but at another realtives house. The following day there is another big meal at yet another relatives house in the early afternoon and then another later at home with immediate family. Christmas is therefore celebrated three days in a row, which I believe has something to do with the three days the three wisemen visited Christ? After Christmas, January 14th is “Starie Novie God” or “Old New Years”. Again celebrated with another huge meal. January 21st is “Babushka’s Day” and there are three or four name days celebrated inbetween. So, the whole month of January is basically one big holiday! Noone goes to work and schools are closed. From what I’ve been told, noone really works the first week in February in order to nurse hangovers and rest from the last month of partying :)
Since Christmas is celebrated here on January 7th, I was not expecting to have any type of celebration for American Christmas on December 25th. In the days leading up to December 25th my host mother started asking me questions about how we celebrated Christmas in the United States and the type of traditions upheld in my family. I happily told her about Santa Claus and how after church my family put out a plate of cookies and hot chocolate for Him and carrotts for his reindeer every Christmas Eve. I told her that we opened presents Christmas morning that Santa had left under our Christmas tree, which we had cut down in the woods around Thanksgiving (although more recently I think my family has bought them from Home Depot), After opening presents, we have a big turkey dinner with family around 2:00 P.M. with all the trimmings.
I decided that a few of these traditions could be performed in Moldova with my family, specifically because I have a 4 year-old host nephew, Gosha, who would love Santa Claus. I told him on December 24th (Christmas Eve) that if he behaved and ate all of his dinner (he hardly ever finishes his food) that maybe the American Det Morose called Santa Claus might visit and leave him presents while he slept. My parents had sent me Christmas presents from the U.S. for my host family and a stocking for me, which I “regifted” filled with candy, fruit and a stuffed black lab that looks like Pepper for Gosha. I wrapped a few books about Keene and Mt. Monadnock in the snowman wrapping paper that my mom had wrapped gifts for me in and placed them all, along with a cute suffed calf my Grandmother had made for Gosha under the yulke. Christmas morning I work up to Gosha shaking me and telling me that American Det Morose had came and left him presents. He dragged me to the yulke and showed me the presents and, to my surprise, Santa had even left a present for me- a carved wooden box that is a traditional Moldovan handicraft and a wooden Moldovan Christmas ornament! Since it was a work day, I made him wait until my host mother, Anna, came home for lunch to open the presents. Anna came home around 1:00 P.M. and went to prepare lunch, as always. Around 2:00 P.M. she called us for lunch. I walked into the kitchen and saw a huge spread: A roasted turkey, five different salads, pickled vegetables, bread, baked potatoes, olives and feta, dolmathes, baskets of candy and champagne, wine, and cognac!!! She had been listening to everything I had said we did in the United States and had reconstructed it for me! I have no idea where she found them, but she even had festive Santa napkins on the table. I couldn’t believe it- I had only been living with them for a month, but they made me feel just like part of the family. Their thoughtfulness brought tears to my eyes. During dinner, it began to snow furiously outside. Gosha and I ran outside and played in the 1st snow ot the year, which had come just in time to make my first Moldovan Christmas a white one.

As always, I hope all is finds you and your family happy and healthy!

Take care,

Anastasia Kolivas, PCV
Corpul Pacii
Str. Grigore Ureche #12
Chisinau 2001
Republic Moldova

A few Moldovan anectotes...

Hey! I am kinda bored at work, so now I have time to tell you some Moldovan stories. Where to begin??? Life here is interesting…. nothing at all like how I envisioned my Peace Corps service being like. I should have known better than to have that romantic notion that I would be digging a well somewhere in Africa or teaching English in a bungalow on the beach to some half naked kids in Vanuatu. Moldova- what a mess! Throughout history, this poor country has been conquered and ruled by invaders from wherever: Mongolia, Turks, Russians etc. They never really got a chance to govern themselves and were totally oppressed for the last million years or whatever, so now they have been left behind by mother Russia to fend for themselves. They have no real national identity since the country never existed before- it’s really made up of unnatural borders that contain all types of people and have not too awful much in common with each other. The national language is supposed to be “Moldovan”, which is really Romanian with an accent, but, for example, in my village they don’t speak Moldovan at all and speak Bulgarian and Russian. They learn Moldovan as a foreign language, but have more class time in English than in Moldovan. My NGO partner is ”Moldovan”, but every time she comes to a Peace Corps conference or something with me, we have to get her a translator from Romanian or English into Russian. The economic situation is crappy too- the government sucks up all the revenue that comes into the country (which is nothing) and the people subsist by growing all their food at home. I just went to a UNICEF conference the other day that said that 90% of Moldovans live below the international development poverty line thing, which is less than $900/ year. I think the average family’s income was like $846 or something. It’s kinda interesting to see where Moldovans priorities are- people as a whole are very concerned about their appearances and despite their measly salaries, many women walk around in these CRAZY knee or thigh-high boots with stiletto heels that cost over $100. There is some joke amongst foreigners that a Moldovan kid can walk 3 miles to school in snow and 6 inches of mud and walk into school with sparkling shoes. Clean shoes are really, really important here. Many younger people spend their monthly salary on one outfit- I don’t really get it. Anyway- let me tell you a story.

Uhhh- can’t really thing of a good one. Well, I did spend about $110 on a cell phone and not even a week after I bought it, I dropped it down the outhouse. I also used to get chased to school everyday by a mean goose- it wasn’t the same goose either- it was a different one every day. The shower in my old house was bizarre- normal for Moldova, but there’s no curtain or anything and the hot water (manually lit and heated by gas) had to be turned on from the kitchen. I don’t know what went on one day, but my host mom started yelling something about the water from the kitchen while I was showering and then busted in on me! She started messing with the faucet knobs and turned off the water while I was standing there naked, soap in my hair and all- just hanging out. She looks at me and starts laughing. I don’t have a clue, but it was just like being 4 years old again and having your grandmother give you a bath. Standing in the tub, no clothes, freezing my ass off. Normal start to my Moldovan day. It happened twice more, but by then it was normal.

Oh- this was cute: I live with a four year old who is an absolute trip! The second day I was in there, his grandmother had a bowl of apples that she put in my room for me. She had asked him if he wanted one before she gave them to me and he said no. Later he saw the apples in my room and wanted one. He came out with an apple and his grandmother asked him why he took one of my apples when she had asked him before if he wanted one. He said, “These are American apples and they are better than your Bulgarian apples!” From then on, we call apples in our house American apples otherwise he won’t eat them.

That wasn’t too funny, sorry. I’m gonna have to give this more thought, I guess. You have to pay for ketchup at McDonald’s here- I find that irritating. I had duck meatballs for lunch today.

I made a list of things I have to be better at in my quest to be Moldovan and wearing slippers is at the top. I suck at taking on and off my slippers. Here, you have to take off your shoes before going into a house and wear slippers in the courtyard and change those slippers after you go into one room in my bathroom into the other actual room with the toilet and shower in it. I always have the wrong slippers in the wrong place or room or wet feet because I miss the slipper and put my foot on the wet floor in the bathroom. I always put them in the way so you can’t shut the door or else kick them off so far away from the door that I can’t reach them when I have to put them back on unless I walk outside barefoot. I really need to work on that.

I found out how much I suck at milking cows too. I tried before dinner one night and my host sister laughed for about 2 minutes and then told me to get up so she could take over, otherwise we wouldn’t be eating dinner until next week.

I suck at Russian too- well, I’m not that bad, but I can’t pronounce certain things to save my life. I am forever banned from asking someone to “write that down” since apparently I say “go over there and piss”. I can’t pronounce the difference between “12” and “19” either, so everyone thinks that Alex is still in Middle School. The word for “folder” and “ass” are apparently similar, so I had been telling everyone to “open their ass” one day at a conference until I was told differently after lunch.

The weather today is awesome! I have honestly never seen anything like it… It is cold AND humid at the same time. It’s probably 35oF and 100% humidity. It’s that kinda cold that seeps into your bones- well, not yours- mine, that is. It is soooooooo foggy- the visibility is probably like 30 feet. It looks like a bad horror film from the ‘60’s outside! All these craggy trees and little hunched old ladies dressed in black coming up the hill out of the fog. It’s creepy. I guess this is what the winter will be like on a consistent basis. I had thought that there would be a lot of snow here, but they said that they only get a few inches, then it melts during the day and turns into ice. I’m totally expecting break #4 (or whatever # it is) for the good old left wrist in a few months. We got these things called “Yak-Traks” that go over our shoes kinda like cramp-ons, but I doubt they will help my clumsy ass. I’m gonna be biffing it all over Moldova this winter J! (I’m only 3 ½ hours from the doctor- don’t worry)

Moldova really isn’t bad- it’s pretty fun actually! I have a really great group of volunteers that I came with. There are about 30 of us that came in September and there was about 100 here from other projects like Health and TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language). They are mostly big dorks, though. I have decided that our group (Moldova 19) is by far the best group. My new, permanent host family is absolutely WONDERFUL too! The food isn’t as bad as I had originally thought. It also helps that my family makes Bulgarian food instead of Moldovan. Yiayia would be horrified to see that I am eating Bulgarian feta with all of my meals. I really, really like my partner at the NGO I’m working with! She is the same age as me and is totally energetic and into giving Moldovan youth hope and opportunities for the future, which is rare here. I don’t really do anything at work yet, since I can’t really speak Russian/Bulgarian well, but at least I show up so the community gets to know me. There are 42,000 holidays from now until mid January too, so I’m not really expected to do anything but party with the village. Moldovans may not have too much in the way of resources, but they sure do know how to get down!!! I’ve never hora-ed (and I thought it was a Jewish thing?) so much in my life!

Ok- I have to write a “nice” e-mail for the rest of the fam. and friends. I’ll send you that one too.

Miss and love you tons!






February 28, 2007

Well, winter weather has FINALLY reached Moldova- we got about 2 ft. of snow the other day and it’s been really, really cold. During the day the temperatures get to around 32oF, but at night it’s well below freezing. Despite wearing at least three layers of clothes (long underwear has become my favorite article of clothing) everyday, I am almost always freezing. Insulation is non-existant in Moldovan buildings and houses and outrageous gas prices, thanks to president Putin, make keeping warm expensive and difficult. Getting around in this type of weather is also pretty interesting; snowplows and salted roads are also not to be found in Moldova. I’ve become quite adept at falling in the street. So far, so good- no major injuries to report. I was walking home from work for lunch with my host mother yesterday arm in arm when she slipped and took me down with her. Our neighbors were outside shoveling and thought it was quite hysterical to see my host mom layed out on her back in the street with me on top of her!
Besides the wintery weather to report, we also have some new additions to our household. In the last two weeks we had five momma pigs give birth to- get this- 55 piglets! Yes, we have 55 piglets at our house currently. One of our dogs also had puppies today. It’s like I live on Old MacDonald’s farm! After the piglets get to be ten kilograms, they will be sold at the market and to neighbors. My host mom said that last year the piglets sold for 600 lei (about 50 dollars) each, but this year the price has gone down to maybe 450 lei.
Since the average Moldovan household income is less than $2,000/year, most households rely on subsistance agriculture to supplement their income and feed their families. My family has a huge “garden” that resembles a vineyard more then an American-style vegetable patch. A garden this large requires a lot of work- my host mother and 80 year old “babushka” already started pruning the grape vines early this month. My host mother works from 8:30 AM- 12:30 PM Monday-Friday as an accountant in the mayor’s office and comes home and works in the garden until sundown, weather permitting. Besides grapes (for wine, cognac, and eating), they grow watermelons and various other melons, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, garlic, dill, parsley, zucchini, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, eggplant, a variety of peppers, carrots, beets, scallions, cabbage, all types of beans, and mushrooms. We also have walnut, hazelnut, peach, plum, apricot, apple, quince, pear and cherry trees.
Besides fruits and vegetables, we also have A LOT of animals. The amimals all live in the “backyard”, which is attached to our house. Besides the 60 some-odd pigs, we have turkeys, ducks, chickens, geese, cats and dogs. The latter two we no not eat. We have sheep too, but they live in a field somewhere sheparded by a real live shepard and come home only in the spring to give birth or to get butchered. Since we have a lot of foul, we eat poulty and fresh eggs often. I would say that we eat mostly goose, followed by pork, then turkey, chicken, and duck. Sometimes we have fish (which Peace Corps told us not to eat, but I haven’t gotten sick yet), usually fried, but sometimes raw. My host dad butchers the pigs at home with the help of another man, usually my host uncle or brother. The women butcher and pluck the fowl and save the goose feathers for pillows. My dad makes all types of homemade sausage and also smokes and cures the some of the meat in the garden. The rest of the meat is cooked in various dishes by host mom. Moldovans are very proud of their homegrown “natural” food, which I think is wonderful. I’m pretty sure that I will get sick when I return to the United States because of all of the preservatives, hormones, and additives that we put in our food.
Getting used to eating pork was traumatic at first because I didn’t eat pork at all in the U.S., but I am trying to make the best of it- it’s not all that bad. I know that I will never like any sausage-type meat no matter what meat it is made of, which is unfortunate because “kilbaska” and “sausiski” are staples at Moldovan tables. I tell my family that I will try anything once, and so far I haven’t had too many dishes that I cannot stomach. It’s not like when I lived in Indonesia and was served dishes containing totally foreign, unidentifiable substances not found in the U.S. For the most part, ingredients in Moldovan food are the same as used in the U.S. The most “interesting” dish I have come across is called “kholodetz” in Russian or “racciture” in Romanian. No matter what it’s called in either language, I think it’s yucky. It is a dish of cold, clear animal gelatin with pieces of meat suspended in it. Usually the meat is pork, but I have also seen turkey and fish kholodetz. Thank god kholodetz is a “treat” and only served on holidays and special occassions!
I consider myself fortunate as far as food goes in Moldova- my family is ethnically Bulgarian and cooks mainly Bulgarian dishes. My host mom is a wonderful cook, much like my mom in the States. In contrast to Moldovan food, Bulgarian food is spicy and flavorful. I usually have coffee and some type of oatmeal or cream of wheat-type food for breakfast, but sometimes get lucky and get crepes filled with sour cherries or strawberry preserves instead. Everyone goes home for lunch, which is the biggest meal of the day. My family doesn’t drink water, really- we have homemade red wine with every meal and tea or coffee. We always have bread, usually accompanied by homemade Bulgarian feta and a bowl of homemade pickled tomatoes, cucumbers, apples (yum!), and chili peppers at every meal. There is always a first and second course at my house. The first course is soup, usually a type of vegetable soup, or “borsch”. Sometimes the soup has lamb or chicken in it. The second course(s) are a type of meat, usually roasted, smoked, or in a vegetable sauce, and a vegetable, like baked or mashed potatoes, beans in chili sauce or a salad. In the summer the salad is fresh vegetables, usually tomatoes and cucumbers, but in the winter we have a lot of “Russian” salads with mayonnaise like a potato salad with peas, carrots, and ham-type meat. We also have pasta, either with feta or plain, quite often. Dinner is normally meat, maybe shish kebab, and vegetables. My host mom makes awesome Greek-style “dolmathes”- stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage or red peppers. She also makes a Bulgarian dish called “malina” which is thin dough stuffed with feta or pumpkin, rolled into a tube, coiled into a spiral and baked in a big round pan, which is delicious. As far as I can tell, desserts and pasteries are non-existant.
Well, if you’re not hungry yet, there is no helping you. I hope this painted an accurate picture of how food is procured and presented at my house. Don’t get me wrong- I still appreciate the care packages with twizzlers and granola bars! Take care and stay warm!

Anastasia Kolivas, PCV
Corpul Pacii
Str. Grigore Ureche # 12
Chisinau 2001
Republic Moldova

1st Moldova letter October 2007

Greetings from Moldova!

I have been in Moldova for just over a month now and feel that I am settled enough to give everyone a glimpse into the exciting new challenge I have undertaken. Our Peace Corps group of volunteers are know as Moldova 19- the 19th group of volunteers to arrive in Moldova since Peace Corps started its program here in 1997. Moldova has been independent from the former U.S.S.R. since 1995, so it has only been an autonomous state for about 15 years. The official language is “Moldovan” or Romanian, but the population is bilingual, educated by the soviet system in Russian. Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and also progressing developmentally at the slowest rate of any former soviet republic. Moldova has actually regressed economically since independence. Historically, the territory that is now Moldova has been conquerered, divided, and occupied by numerous tribes, empires, and states. Geographically, Moldova sits at the crossroads of the West and East- between Europe and Russia/Asia. These factors have certainly had an enormous impact and influence on the culture and politics of Moldova today.
Never having been to a former Soviet republic, I had no idea what to expect when I landed in the capital, Chisinau, September 13th, 2006. Chisinau is a relatively small city of about 700,000 people. Of course, the actual population of any Molodovan city/town is much smaller than officially stated, since ¼ of the population is working abroad at any given time. Chisinau looks like any soviet city from picture books- full of drab gray apartment blocs, small european cars and statues of Lenin. I was pretty surprised to learn that the capital offered very little variety in the way of consumer goods, restaurants (NO CHINESE), or tourist attractions. It is nice, however, to walk through a city in another country nowadays and see no sight of a pizza hut or starbucks!
I immediately moved to a town outside of the capital called Ialoveni (pronounced “Yalo-ven”) for the next two months of training before being sworn in as a volunteer on November 18th. I live with a local Moldovan host family. I have two parents, about the same age as my parents in the U.S. (but they look a lot older!), a sister who is 27 and eight months pregnant, her husband and their 1 year-old daughter. My family is extremely nice, as Moldovans pride themselves on their hospitality. Our communication is getting better and better each day becuase my Russian seems to be coming along rapidly- noone in the house speaks English. Apparently, the 3rd language taught in soviet schools was French and not English- go figure!
My house is very different from what we are used to typically in the U.S. The bedrooms are separate from the kitchen and bathtub (I don’t know if I would call it a “bathroom” ) which are outside and around the corner. The walk is nice- there is an arbor full of grapes encircling the house. We have running water, but no indoor toilet which means that yes- we have an outhouse!!! I was really confused when I opened the door for the first time and expected to see the traditional Turkish-style toilet, a.k.a. a hole in the ground, and saw an actual porcelain toilet mounted over the hole, but missing all of the innerworkings. We do have toilet paper however, which is a step up from my Indonesian facilities!
Moldovan families supplement their meager income by growing about 85% of their own food, so we have two large gardens in front and in back of the house. They grow many of the same vegetables and fruits we have in the U.S. : beets, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, dill, strawberries, raspberries, watemelons,pears, plums, apples, walnuts and hazelnuts. My Mom has been busy canning, pickling and jellying all of the above for the long winter ahead. Moldova is also famous for their wine and most Moldovans make hommade wine, which they are very proud of, so there are grapes everywhere this time of year! On the side of the house we have a coop full of chickens, geese, and turkeys that love to make noise when I am trying to sleep- usually at about midnight and 5 am. We also have two cows that have a small “cow house” next to my bedroom. My family makes fresh cheese two or three times a week, which is delicious. They also make sour cream, kefir (a sort of yogurt), and brinza, which is similar to feta cheese, but less salty. And of course, since we are in Eastern Europe, there are three ugly, skinny and very mean dogs chained at each corner of our house.
Peace Corps has been keeping us very busy almost everyday. At least 4 days a week we have language class, which I love. Out of our group of 37 trainees, two, myself included, were chosen to learn Russian, not Romanian, the national language. Learning Russian is going to be a great asset in the future I believe, so I am extremely happy. Two days a week we have Peace Corps specific trainings on health and safety, policies and procedures, and development tactics. On Sundays we usually have a field trip- this weekend we are visiting the south of Moldova and last weekend was the national wine festival in the capital.
As a whole, so far, so good! I am having a wonderful time, despite the initial culture shock and lack of language skills. I didn’t even get sick as I expected in the first few weeks! People are generally very welcoming and warm. The Peace Corps is taking good care of us and seems to have a very well developed and competent organization in Moldova. Hope all is well and would love to hear from you!

Das Vidania!


Anastasia Kolivas
Corpul Pacii
Grigore Ureche Str. 12
Chisinau 2001
Republic Moldova