Monday, July 11, 2011

Close of Service

This is a photo from my last day at the youth council. Near the top, you can see my friend Alina holding the homemade "yearbook" the youth made me. As of tomorrow, I am forevermore a "Returned Peace Corps Volunteer." 

I've spent the last three days saying farewell to my life in Moldova. Rather than attempting to duplicate my two years of service now, I encourage readers to use the sidebars on the right side of this page to browse through my posts on youth development, my community, and Moldovan culture. This blog is my story as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Moldova. It exists to help promote Peace Corps' third goal of mutual understanding. If I've done my part, at least a few readers will have learned about the generosity, warmth, and beauty of the people that I shared about through this blog.

Please let me also recommend a few of my favorite moments in service to readers who happen to stumble across this page after I've stopped writing. 
[+] Youth taking control of their futures
[+] A campaign completed

To those readers I personally know (or may be related to!): Thank you for your support! I can't wait to see you all soon and share more about my amazing host country. I'll probably be like folks in the video below, so be ready!

To the readers I am not personally acquainted with, thank you for reading. Please continue to leave your comments and help make this space a conversation!

La revedere!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Backyard Barbecue

At the last minute, I decided to host a cookout for American Independence Day. Doina (left) came to help me skewer teriyaki veggie kebabs and whip up a batch of homemade marshmallows. Thanks to a care package I recently received, I also served up smoked salmon on toast. I am happy to report that at the end of the night, two lonely marshmallows were all that remained. Since the kiddos made themselves miserable with sugary indulgence, they simply couldn't bring themselves to finish the last two nuggets of gooey goodness. 

My host mother couldn't understand why I wanted to host a party outside, and spent the afternoon fixing up the dining room just in case I changed my mind. Thankfully, by evening, she understood how much backyard barbeques really are better than indoor parties. Most of the neighbors stayed late into the evening, sipping wine, eating until only those two marshmallows remained, and socializing, despite that fact that the celebration fell on a Monday night.

Just when my host Mom started bragging about how this adopted daughter learned all the Moldovan customs for parties (meaning I arranged the food in a frumos or "beautiful" way and served up at least one dish containing mayonaise), I failed miserably. I was trying to offer people beverages. There was a table covered with house wine and beer that the neighbors brought with them, but no one was drinking any. 

"Melissa," said my neighbor, shaking his head, " you can't 'offer' people things. You have to give it to them!"

He's right. For the past two years I've sat on the receiving end of whatever my insistent hosts managed to put on my plate or pour in my glass. [Hint: always too much.] So, I picked up a stack of cups and a bottle of wine and made the rounds. For those that didn't want wine, I came back with beer. For those that didn't want beer, I came back with vodka. Finally, for the kiddos, carbonated water.

Making a spectacle of myself in this way garnered cheers and encouragement from my friends and neighbors, plus approval in the "like that, yes, good" statements from all sides of the fire. 

The next day I was riding a city bus and I heard my neighbor's voice. Perhaps she saw me before I saw her, but the sentiment is the same. I recognized her voice because she was telling another woman about this great party she went to the night before. This American girl served the most delicious kind of fish and cooked vegetables on the grill instead of meat.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

High school graduation and prom

Rather than having a prom and graduation ceremony on separate occasions, the local high school orchestrates a one night affair to take care of both events.
In the school's auditorium, 94 graduates received their diplomas in front of their friends, families, and teachers. In Moldova, classes are divided up into small groups based on their track of study. For instance, classes 12-A and 12-B are "humanists" and 12-4 are "realists," which is a more science-based course load. Class 12-C is pictured above, receiving their diplomas from their homeroom teacher. After each class received their diplomas, they presented a few poems or songs. The homeroom teachers also spoke about their students, wishing them happy trails. 

After the ceremony, students, teachers, and even a few parents made their way to the fanciest wedding hall in town. I suppose technically, it's a "banquet hall," but everyone just calls it a wedding hall since that is the most important event in Moldovan culture. Here, Doina and I are waiting to go into the party. The flowers I'm holding were given to me by a graduate I don't even know. Practicing her English, she said, "We thank you for coming to our [high school]. Thank you very much." I reciprocated in English, congratulating her on her graduation. Later that night, my new acquaintance came in handy when looking for a friendly face in the hora circle (see video).

Like at Moldovan weddings, there was feast accompanied by live music, hora dancing, and a generally good party all night long. This video is a perfect portrayal of the night. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Recipe: Spicy Carrots

Spicy carrots/marinated carrots/sweet carrots are pretty much a staple in Moldova. You can buy a small package of them for around 8 lei (~$0.80). They are a delicious, sweet, and tangy side dish to any meal. Recently, my Ukrainian neighbor Tatiana taught me to make them from scratch. I promise you it takes no more than 15 minutes to make a whole kilogram of this wonderful deliciousness. By popular demand, I'm posting the instructions here. 

Step 1: Peel and grate your carrots. This particular grater was a gift from Tatiana, you can find them at any piata/market. What makes it unique is the squared form it gives to the carrots as you grate them.
Step 2: Heat the carrots in an oiled pan. Of course, our Moldovan friends will pour a centimeter of oil in the pan and call it a splash, but take control!  This goal here is not to cook the carrots per say, but soften them up a pinch. 

Step 3: Remove the carrots from the heat and put them in a large mixing bowl. Add as much pressed garlic as you can handle, salt, sugar, and vinegar. For one kilogram of carrots, I used two big pinches of salt (opa!), one tablespoon of sugar, and two tablespoons of vinegar. But Tatiana pretty much said, do whatever you like! I think you could also use garlic salt/powder easily too.

Step 4: Add your spices. At the piata in Balti (the indoor area), the woman in the center of the building selling mixed fruit and spices has a pre-made "spicy carrot mix." The label is written in Russian, but she speaks Romanian too. I think the mix is 80% paprika (does that really have flavor?), plus some thyme, sesame seeds, and pepper. I bought a few extra portions of this to take home, but again, you can put in whatever your taste buds desire!

Step 5: There is no step five. Pofta buna!

Stereotypes and Roma Culture Workshop

Understand: Like the word "gypsy" is used in English to refer to a Roma person with rather derogatory connotations, the word "țigan" is used in Romanian to refer to a Roma person who supposedly lies, cheats, and steals. 

A year ago, a girl at the youth council started a new relationship with a Roma boy and was teased mercilessly for it. Ignorance is rampant all over the world, no doubt about it. 

 Hence, a few Peace Corps Volunteers recently ignited a new effort specifically dedicated to increasing understanding and respect toward Roma people in our communities. This group calls itself RISE: Roma Inclusion, Support, and Education. 

Almost a year from the day I first heard that ignorant language at the youth center, RISE came to facilitate a workshop on stereotypes and Roma culture. The workshop required participants to learn definitions of key terms, identify their own prejudices, and learn about the Roma communities in Moldova.

All throughout the workshop, I could see the kids either a) wanting to believe whole-heatedly everything the facilitators told them, or b) wanting to argue every point the facilitators told them. Result you ask? Great discussions all around.

Here are a few of the key learning points, paraphrased:

Boy: I don't think this 'Roma' word is correct because I've never heard it. We say 'țigan.'
Facilitator: Roma is correct term. Ask a Roma person and that is what they will identify as.'

Girl: This is all so hard to believe because all our lives, we are taught that these people are this way, or do that. Then, when my father was taken advantage of by a Roma person, we say 'look, he's Roma and he did this.
Facilitator: But I bet a lot of Moldovans have also stolen too.

Boy: Discrimination means treating someone wrong because of who they are or what group they belong to.
Facilitator: You are going to be a great president some day!