Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Calling all agricultural experts!

Are you a retired agricultural producer? A farmer that thirsts for travel? I have found an incredible opportunity for you...

You could participate as a Farmer-to-Farmer outreach volunteer with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)'s Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs (CNFA), a program funded through the U.S. Farm Bill.

This humanitarian and cultural program is designed to promote sustainable agricultural growth and reduce poverty while increasing international and intercultural understanding.

How does it work?
A U.S. farmer, agribusiness, and other agricultural professionals are paired with small-scale private farmers and agricultural consultants in developing countries.

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers are matched to specific assignments in 23 countries on four continents based on the specific agricultural interests and needs of local farmers, which may include questions about crop production, food processing, marketing, livestock production, business planning, management and finance and more.

Moldova is specifically in need of post-harvest table grape experts and experts in dairy, fruit and vegetable production. If you are interested, please visit the CNFA website at www.cnfa.org and if you are specifically interested in traveling to Moldova please contact me directly!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mental clarity.

Heartbeats, faster. Muscles, harder. Stamina, longer. Breathing, deeper. Thinking, slower. Feeling, better. Get your head out of the gutter and onto the pavement, because that is where I am.

Running has never been something that I do for “fun,” it is more like something I have to do to “get through.” Like a crack head needs their fix, I need to run. I don’t always do it, I don’t always like it and sometimes I even walk a little. It’s not about getting the best time or running the longest distance (I hate when people ask me the question, “So how far did you run and how long did it take?”). For me, running is medicinal. For a short part of the day I can delete the thoughts running in my head and concentrate on breathing, stepping, seeing, smelling and doing everything but thinking. Other days, I can concentrate on the one thought that won’t leave my small mind alone. It gives me a chance to really rationalize and contemplate the who, what, where, when, why and how of the troublesome thought. I never really thought of myself as a competitive runner. I enjoy it too much. Don’t get me wrong, I was a middle-distance runner for high school track and I played midfield for my high school and college club field hockey teams (that means I played both offense and defense), its just that I never really ran for recognition. I do it to keep fit. Mostly for mental fitness but the physical benefits “weigh in” as well. Since landing in Moldova, running has become even more of a necessity. Trying to speak Romanian all day at the office makes my head spin and sometimes ache. So, every morning I start with a run, to clear my mind and get ready for a day full of language struggles. Another volunteer and I have decided to take our daily jogs to the next level and train for the original marathon in Athens which will occur in October, 2011. Wish me luck… it’s time to hit the road.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Struggle with Faith…

In the short days after my visit to the monastery, a religious celebration for grapes and beginning the book The Red Tent, I came to fully realize my struggle with faith.  To try and cease the thinking tornado that my mind was creating, circling the topics of religion, faith, morality and belief, I decided to watch a movie.  The movie I chose, only rekindled my thoughts. The movie I decided to watch to take my mind of things was based on a novel by Dan Brown, “Angels and Demons” and I found a quote from a particular scene that spoke to me more deeply than I thought possible (it is only Hollywood after all). 

Tom Hanks who plays Robert Langdon is requesting permission to the Holy Archive of the Vatican and in the process is questioned on his faith…
Camerlengo Patrick McKenna: Christianity's most sacred codices are in that archive. Given your recent entanglement with the church, there is a question I'd like to ask you first, here, in the office of His Holiness.  Do you believe in God, sir?
Robert Langdon: Father, I simply believe that religion...
Camerlengo Patrick McKenna: I did not ask if you believe what man says about God. I asked if you believe in God.
Robert Langdon: I am an academic.  My mind tells me I will never understand God.”
Camerlengo Patrick McKenna: And your heart?”
Robert Langdon: Tells me I am not meant too.  Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.

Born and raised an American Baptist in upstate New York, I have come to believe more in the power and good of people than a book of colorful stories written and strewn together by mostly men who are no longer living.  My scientific education has also made me question my faith on a level that has left me mostly agnostic.  It is hard for me to desert something that consumed much of my childhood and in which so many people believe and come to have faith.  
I suppose until I personally receive the gift of faith, I will continue to search for answers…

Religious Rant

In conclusion of my first week at site, my partner and host mother invited me on a Monastery tour with the local women’s group. The monasteries were beautiful and after walking around the grounds and entering the church with the reddened cheeks of a sinner, I walked over to a bench to observe and scribble my thoughts into a pink paisley notebook (thanks Hillary!).

I have never really understood religion and I suppose that’s the point. There is no reason to understand when you are to just believe. For me, that is asking a lot. I have been taught to ask for proof or evidence, to ask “why,” and so on and so forth.

The orthodox religion is no different and remains a mystery to me. The people pour money into an establishment that does what? Allows them to come pray freely? Can’t this act be done in the privacy of their own homes? I understand the draw. This place is beautiful. Overflowing with sunny yellow marigolds, perfect pink petunias, and a menagerie of annuals and perennials. The people come in droves (rutieras really) and wearing their finest. Women in headscarves, dresses or skirts and men wearing whatever they want (double standard?). Stupidly, I wore shorts today and my host mom did not think she needed to inform me of the dress code before we left the house. I even contemplated a dress but I didn’t think my longer shorts would be a problem. I ended up “borrowing” a skirt from a pile of them hanging next to a sign indicating that shorts were not allowed. There are many children working here, mostly young girls running around with buckets of produce and following the older women with brooms and dustpans. I assume that they help the nuns/monks? With a background as colorful as a rainbow (flowers, sky, clouds, forest, etc.) the people of this establishment wear black. Why?

Also there are three church shoppes on the premises, selling icons and basically the same plastic or beaded knick-knacks you might find in Mexico. Everyone is buying. They are buying the plastic beaded rosaries, the pictures of saints, the candles to light in the church (made from the bees on the premises), and may I ask, what are all of these material things supposed to do? Protect them? I bet if I checked the bottom there is most likely a gold sticker with writing in black that says: “Made in China.” Since when did religion become a business for tourism?

Everyone is also wearing flip-flops. I get it. I LOVE flip-flops, but this shoe apparel is truly awful for supporting your arches and protecting your feet. Even the children wear them.

I saw a greenhouse and a garden as well as several horses and carts. This monastery is large and seems to be self-sustaining. Interesting… I wonder what their financial books look like. I wonder who pays for all of the plants they have to cultivate every year.

While sitting, observing and writing I spotted:

A dress exactly like one my mom had in the 80’s. It was black with grey/gold/brown roses all over it. It also had a lace collar.

Louis Vuitton headscarf.

Girls in skirts shorter than my shorts. One was white and see-through, I also do not think that she was wearing any undergarments. Why were my shorts a problem again? Ah, yes. Religious tradition.

A little ginger baby with freckles. Am I in Scotland, Ireland, England? Oh no, that’s right I’m in Moldova.

Women with more facial hair than my brothers could grow in a year.

Enjoy my photos…

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I make lists because it’s something I can control and crossing off my own scribbles with a straight line or sometimes small scribbly circles in a different color gives me such satisfaction that it’s an obsession hard to control. Funny thing is that I do it because there are so many things in life you can’t control. You can’t control how people feel about you. You can’t control what people say, or what they think. But you can control the space between those lines on that college-ruled sheet of blank vellum. You can control that. So you do. You write down every little detail of what you hope to accomplish today, tomorrow, next year or maybe even in the next ten years. What you can’t account for are the smudges. Those perfect little interruptions that smear your perfect cursive set precisely between those lines. Life, God or whoever/whatever it is that controls this world we live in always provides our daily existence with reasons to not quite finish the list or even our attempt to cross off one line. Dealing with those incomplete tasks on my never-ending list is difficult for me and I am still learning how exactly to let the ball of my pen just roll. It’s hard when so many things… so many important things have been out of my control. Maybe that’s why I constantly seek escape. Pursuing things that never really existed in the first place. To be continued…

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ziua de Nastere: Birthdays!

If invited to a birthday in Moldova it is important to clarify exactly when guests will be arriving and to arrive on time with a gift in hand. The price of the gift will vary depending upon your relationship with that person. Flowers for the mother and wine and candies are typically brought as well. If you are invited to the birthday of a child and there are other siblings it is important to bring a small present or candies for them as well (I personally like this tradition). There is usually a lot of dancing, eating, drinking and discussion. Expect to eat a lot at these types of occasions.

I post this today, because it is actually my eldest brother’s birthday in the United States. I hope he is able to eat, dance, drink and be merry on his glorious day of birth!

First weekend in Peresecina!

So on Friday after the swearing-in, my partner explains that on Sunday my host mom and I will be attending a wedding with her! I was super excited to be able to really see some of these traditions first hand. We did not attend the religious ceremony or the civil procedures; we went straight for the party (which is typical in Moldovan culture). We arrived and the bride and groom were standing under a terrace of fake flowers in a large hall (which looks like its used for other fun and formal events, I think it is normally a restaurant). They were greeted with presents, handshakes, cheek kisses and guests filled the fishbowl on the table with money. The bride had her hair in a romantic low ponytail with many curls and small bobby pins with gems stuck here and there to hold her layers and she was wearing a soft gray tulip dress and black heels. The groom wore a short sleeve light purple/gray dress shirt and dark gray slacks, which I felt was a little dressed down for the event but I think they had changed from the earlier ceremonies. We then sat down to eat… and boy was there a lot! 2 bottles of cognac, champagne and wine at every table, fish, bread, pork, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, chicken, more pork, eggplant wrapped with tomatoes, the spread was incredible and in the center were tiered plates with fruits, cookies and chocolates… yum! I even ate the fish and fish eggs on buttered bread (even though our medical officer warns us not to eat an of these things). As I sat there enjoying the meal, the women at my table burst out in perfect four-part harmony singing a folkloric music. I hadn’t realized that I was sitting with the village choir! It was incredible. After two or three songs the bride and groom came over and toasted my table for their music and we all took another shot of cognac. At this point I began sucking down water because of the heat and because of the awful flavor of cognac in my mouth and slowly burning down my throat and in my stomach. Three of the women at my table taught at the music school, which was really cool and began asking me if I played anything. Trying to explain a French horn in Romanian is harder than you think… trumpet, piano and voice were a lot easier. They then asked me when I was going to start an English club, which was prompted by a very drunk lady (a relative or godmother to the bride I believe) swaggering over to our table and saying to me “Hello. My name is Ana. How are you? I am fine. Thank you. Goodbye.” all in one slurred, yet rapid sentence. I tried to respond but she promptly walked away, only to return later on the dance floor and say the same exact sentence. I then met the Spanish teacher at the school who is adorable and speaks with a Barcelona accent. I offered to possibly start a Spanish-speaking club or to come talk about Mexican culture and she was thrilled. After this we all danced the hora. The music came from a DJ who was set up in the corner, with his electric piano, guitar, sound system and cd player. He came complete with a cheesy blue shirt with clouds on it. It was great. We continued to dance the hora and then a chair arrived on the scene in the center of the circle. The lady who was speaking English to me earlier in the day was forced to sit, handed a bottle of champagne and tossed up and down several times to the beat of a song the DJ was blaring. It was great! Something right out of a move (e.g. My Big Fat Greek Wedding?). We then continued dancing the hora and this older man really was digging the music, broke the circle, grabbed one of the music teachers and started twirling her around the inside of our hora with such finesse and regality as a professional. He at one point grabbed my arm to dance but my host mom and partner yelled at him and told him not to pester me. I just started laughing. This party was incredible and a great way to meet a lot of people from my new community. I am so happy that I was able to jump right in and start making new friends and show off my skills at the hora in my first weekend at site!

It's a nice day to start again. It's a nice day for a white wedding. It's a nice day to start again...

Cununia: Religious Marriage
The wedding at the church or religious marriage is very important for the couple. Oftentimes it happens on the same day as the civil registration of the marriage, sometimes earlier and sometimes later. To be married at the church both parties must be baptized and the day must be agreed upon by the parents of the couple and the priest (which can never be during lent). The priest will pray for the couple and their happiness and then they will exchange wedding rings.

There is a small carpet put on the floor in the church with some money underneath it and the young couple will stand on this carpet for the entire service. This gesture symbolizes the fact that this couple cares much more for happiness in their life together and their relationship than for money or other material things.

The bride and groom hold big wedding candles that are tied with a ribbon to show their unity (in the USA this would be referred to as a unity candle).

For the wedding the couple and their parents choose godparents. During the ceremony the godparents stay near the young couple with the nanas (godfather) on the groom’s side and the nanasa (godmother) on the bride’s side. This tradition is much like a best man or a bridesmaid/matron. Their responsibility as godparents is to advise and help the couple throughout their married life and also help financially with the wedding.

The married couple will also choose a saint to protect their home and family and they will continue to celebrate the day of this saint each year. An icon of this saint will be blessed during the ceremony.
They have wedding godparents too. They stand on a carpet with money underneath it symbolizes the fact that they care much more for the happiness of the marriage and relationships than for money or other material things. They use a unity candle.

Casatoria Civila: Civil Marriage
The civil registration of the marriage is done by the officials at a special location in towns or at the mayor’s office in villages. This event may occur before or after the religious marriage. There are certain traditions that are kept during this ceremony as well:
The wedding rings are hidden on a plate with wheat and the bride and groom will have to find them. Whoever finds it first will have a stronger say in the family.

The bride and groom treat each other with a spoon of honey so that their life together is sweet and happy.

The marriage documents are signed and the nanasi (godparents of the wedding) will sign the documents as witnesses.

This ceremony is finished with champagne and chocolates for the guests. They will often drive to the monuments of the town and lay flowers on them (specifically, the Stefan cel Mare monument).

Nunta: Wedding (reception)
The wedding parties in Moldova are an example of the biggest number of customs and traditions that you can ever witness during a small period of time. Usually the preparations start far in advance with the food being cooked and prepared 3 days before. The whole day starts late in the afternoon and the party can rock until 2 or 3 in the morning!

The dressing of the bride and groom is done separately by their close friends and the nanasi (the wedding godparents) and afterwards the bride is taken out of the house into the yard by the younger guests and they dance a hora.

The unmarried guests, relatives and friends, typically arrive earlier and receive flowers or kerchiefs to show that they are not yet married. These are called vornicei (for boys) and druste (for girls). When you receive these tokens it is customary to give a small sum of money, 5 lei or more.

When you arrive at the wedding you approach the young couple and the nanasi with congratulations, shake their hands, and give them a small gift, flowers and a small sum of money. When the majority of the guests have a arrived everyone sits down for a masa, which consists of a cold course, lots of cognac, wine and champagne as well as a course of hot foods and dessert.

Dancing begins and then is interrupted for more traditions.

A pillow is put on a chair and the groom sits on it holding the bride so that their life is as easy and light as the feathers are. The godmother will then remove the veil and put it on the head of a young girl (usually the sister of the bride, close relative or friend). The young lady will have to dance with it later.

The undressing of the bride is accompanied usually by a melody of a song from long ago and the words describe that the bride should say goodbye to her mother and father, sisters and brothers, say goodbye to the family garden, because from now on she will be in a new home. Then the nanasa combs the brides hair, gives the couple perfumes, a kerchief and an apron to the bride to signify that she is now a host. Everyone then presents the couple with small sums of money and put them into the kerchief and is presented with more gifts.

The couple then cuts the wedding cake and serves everyone with cake and wine or champage.

Afterward more dancing occurs!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

First Visit to the Baby

So on the same day that my cousin’s wife was having her baby shower in the United States… I attended a similar event in Moldova. That morning I got up and indicated that I was going to Chisianu to buy my orange stick (for 24/7 internet) and my host mom indicated that I should be home by 14:00 because we were going to visit family in Ialoveni. I agreed, as I assumed visiting family meant eating a lot, dancing, chatting and just plain having a great time. Little did I know that I was going to a Moldovan style baby shower. We arrived with our plastic bag filled with two new outfits for the little one that my host mom had bought earlier that day at the market. We walk through the yard, past the chickens and a HUGE sow to go into a bedroom filled with ladies. On the bed was a pile of presents for the new mom and her baby. We added our gifts to the pile as did everyone else and then finally they put the baby on top of the pile, wrapped it in a few of the items and said a prayer. Then they handed the baby back to its mother and we all left the small room to sit at a table FILLED with food, wine and deliciousness in an area just inside the gate of the house. There was fish, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, plates of meat, cheese, gelatinized pig fat, chickens were sitting on bottles of cognac wrapped in pink and yellow napkins to make a dress and had boiled eggs as heads. It was amazing. There were salads, eggplant with tomato and cheese, and as we finished the “cold/room temperature course,” hot items were brought out. While we were eating the copious amounts of food, the grandmother and great grandmother of the newborn were walking around with a shot glass and champagne, then a shot glass with wine, then a shot glass with cognac, asking each of us to take a shot and wish the mother and child well. The laughter and gossip that ensued was amazing. I wish that I knew more than 10% of what they were saying. This type of gathering would be an excellent time to really get a feel for the needs of the women of this community. I wondered, where are their husbands? Where do they work? I sat between my host mom and a woman named Zina (possibly the largest lady there). Zina sure liked to tell stories, joke and laugh. Every time I looked over at her she had a new piece of food stuck to her chest and she was laughing so hard she could barely balance herself on the bench where we sat. It was truly amazing.

After about 30 minutes, a woman came around with a bowl of water and a dried reed of some sort. I followed the example of the other women and put 10 lei into the water bowl and held out my hands. She shook the reed and then my host mom studied my hands, indicating that I would not have any children. She then clucked and shook her head and looked at me with disappointment. Sorry?!? I then tried to explain to her that a similar cultural practice is done in Mexico with a necklace and the palm of your hand. Let me explain: They take a necklace (typically with a cross on it) and lightly touch your palm three times and lift the necklace. If it spins one way you will be having a girl and the other way you will be having a boy. You count how many times it spins in each direction to identify how many children you will have. When they tried this on me in Mexico the necklace did not move. It stood straight. We tried it 3 times and every time it never twisted, turned or even wavered. I have always said I never really wanted to have children… and it seems that two ancient cultural practices have spoken my desired result. This really struck me… but only time will tell.

Later on in the meal we passed around another basket where everyone placed some money, took a shot of wine/champagne/cognac and then wished the child and its parents well. As we sat around this table with 25 or so women and girls, I couldn’t help but think about what was happening at the baby shower in my hometown…

It really was an amazing experience and I thanked my host mom for dragging the American Volunteer along... I can’t wait to experience more of these types of events in Moldova, especially when my language has improved!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cultural Customs and Traditions

As in most cultures and nations Moldovans value their customs and traditions and pass them on from generation to generation. Each generation adds new shades to the multitude of colors that make the nation’s heritage richer. Moldovans enjoy celebrating and when they get together for a party there is plenty of everything; copious amounts of food, a multitude of singing and dancing which continues until the next morning. Moldovans celebrate religious holidays, Soviet era holidays, and newer holidays that emerged after the country acquired its independence. As I experience the customs and traditions of this small Eastern European culture that celebrates in a big way, I will post the objective information while adding my own subjective experiences. Most recently I attended a party called the “First Visit to the Baby.” Let me explain a little about the cultural traditions surrounding birth…

Every family tries to baptize the newborn child as soon as possible to ensure the Lord’s protection of the child and so that the he/she grows with faith in God and becomes a good Christian. Even during the Soviet era when many customs and traditions were lost, the baptismal was one that was kept by almost every family. The families would baptize their children far from their homes, usually in their parents’ native village where elderly family members (grandfathers and grandmothers) took care that the ritual took place because people were persecuted for religious beliefs. Sometimes the family would take the child to the church late in the evening or the priest would come to their homes late at night to baptize the child in secret.

Today, people are able to share any religious beliefs, and baptizing is done openly. Families go to the church with relative s and friends to baptize the child. The parents of the child choose a few other married couples to baptize their child. They can be relatives or friends, or people the couple respects, but they should be older than the parents of the child. They are called cumatri or godparents. The child’s parents go to the houses of the cumatri approximately one week before the baptizing takes place to ask them to honor their family and baptize the child. They bring some wine to serve the future cumatri and plated bread called colac, to offer them. It is an honor to be asked to baptize the child and it is not customary to refuse. The parents of the child call them cumatri while the child will call them nasu/nasa or nanu/nana. The cumatri will call the child fin/fina. If you accept the responsibility and honor get ready spend some money and assume some responsibilities. Typically the cumatri will spend future celebrations for the child with the family, bringing plenty of presents.

To prepare for the baptizing cumatri have to buy some of the items needed at the church including (but not limited to): candles, flowers, and a towel (or piece of cloth) called a crijma. The candles are lit inside the church and are kept in the hands of the cumatri during the ceremony. During the ceremony the priest brings males into the altar but not the girls. After the baptismal all the women helping to baptize the child will wrap the baby in the towel or cloth previously purchased. In the church the child is kept by the nanasa, who is the godmother of the parents’ wedding (this will be explained later on when I talk about wedding traditions). The mother of the child is not allowed into the church and will stay outside for the entire service. The priest will later come into the corridor of the church to pray for the forgiveness of her sins. In general the mother of the child is allowed to come to the church only 40 days after giving birth to the child. This is why the majority of baptismals take place six weeks after the child is born, unless the child is too weak and the parents need to baptize the child as soon as possible. In the case of a sickly newborn the mother will come to the church later on.

After bringing the child home from the church, all the cumatri gather the candles together, light them and make a crest above the door to protect the new baby. When they do this, they shout out loudly. These candles will be lit for three consecutive nights.

The cumatri also buy some other items for the child including clothes, toys, blankets, etc. When they come to the young couple’s home for the meal they will offer these to the child. A pillow is set on a table and some bread and salt on it. Every pair of cumatri will lay everything they brought in a common pile and say a wish for the child. After this the child is put on top of the pile and all the cumatri will hand the baby to the parents with the worlds: “De la Dumnezeu crestin, de la noi fin,” which means “A Christian from God and at last ours.” These words are said three times and then the child is given to the parents. After all the ceremony everyone eats a huge meal.

The Cumatria:
If the family wishes, they can have a bigger party for the child the same day or later on. This is called cumatria. People eat, dance and have fun! Besides the cumatri, other relatives and friends are invited to celebrate the birth of the child and are called laturasi. Typically, there are two meals, the first one with mostly cold dishes, and the second one with hot food and dessert. In between the two meals people dance and thoroughly enjoy themselves.

At some point during the second meal the cumatri are given bread as a present which is sometimes covered with a piece of cloth, towel, blanket etc. The wedding nanasi are given an even bigger present than the cumatri (as they were their for the couples marriage from the start). When the cumatri and nanasi are given their present, they give some money to the child. The sum of money given depends upon how rich the present is that is offered to them. Again, the wedding nanasi will be expected to give a larger sum of money than the other cumatri. The other guests also bring presents for the child; these are usually smaller than the ones brought by the cumatri. When every couple donates money they also wish the parents and the child the best and are served some wine. Then everyone dances, often until 2 or 3 in the morning!

Looking back…

1 village, 14 volunteers, 6 day of school, 8 weeks of technical sessions, and countless memories.  We made it! I made it!  The Agriculture and Rural Business Development Team (ARBD aka the A Team, where a stands for awesome) became official Peace Corps volunteers yesterday during a ceremony in the capital, Chisinau. 

It seems we have come so far in so little time and now the real work begins.  I am very excited to get started working with my partner and working on my thesis!  I met the director of my program, the United States Ambassador to Moldova, and the Deputy Director of Agriculture in Moldova… all in all it was a really awesome day and it has been a whirlwind of Pre-service training.  If the rest of my service goes this fast… I better start thinking about future plans now…

More to come soon!