Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nunta Moldovaneasca

I've been to my fair share of Moldovan cultural events: baptisms, funerals, birthday parties, Easter and Christmas feasts--but never a wedding. I was beginning to think that I would leave Moldova without having this particular experience. But, a couple weeks ago, my PST host sister (from the family I stayed with my first 2 months in Moldova) called to invite me to her wedding. So, I went, partied my heart out, and saw a Moldovan wedding (nunta Moldovaneasca) at last. I'm feeling particularly lazy, so I will abbreviate this post into a list of observations I made.

Moldovan weddings are long.
I arrived at the bride's house at 10am Sunday morning and left the wedding at 6am Monday morning. According to my host mom, modern Moldovan weddings are much shorter than they used to be. Her wedding lasted two full days.

Moldovan weddings usually happen in 3 separate increments: the civil ceremony, the church ceremony, and the reception.
The civil ceremony is the actual legalization of the marriage. Usually only the nasi (godparents, who are the main sponsors of the wedding, rather than the parents) and a handful of other witnesses are present for this part. At the church ceremony, only immediate family and close friends come (at the wedding I attended, there were about 20 of us). Most guests are invited only to the reception. In fact, the word 'wedding' in Romanian, 'nunta,' actually refers to the reception. There are other terms used to refer to the civil and church cermeonies.

If you have a fear of public speaking, Moldovan weddings are not for you.
At about 1 or 2 am, the nasi typically walk around with a basket to every table. Each person stands up, gives a toast/inspirational speech to the bride and groom, and announces how much money they are giving as a gift. (Yes, you read that right. Full financial disclosure.) I was one of the last people to speak at the wedding I was at, so I had a good two hours to observe how Moldovans did it and then figure out what my own speech would sound like. I became quite the hit of the wedding by throwing in a comment about how beautiful Moldovan weddings were and that Americans could learn a thing or two from Moldovans in that area.

If you dislike dancing, Moldovan weddings are not for you.
It doesn't matter if you're 8 or 80, skinny or fat, coordinated or not. Everyone dances at Moldovan weddings. At the wedding I was at, we did a lot of the Hora (the traditional Moldovan dance). At one point, the entire wedding collective--all 150 of us--formed one giant circle and danced. By far one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

Weddings in Moldova are a big deal.
In Moldova, everyone is expected to marry (and have kids). Thus, a lot of importance is placed on weddings. When you plan a Moldovan wedding, you are under tight scrutiny. Small, simple ceremonies or elopements aren't an option. The bigger, the more elaborate, the better. As glad I was to be able to participate in a Moldovan wedding, I am very glad I don't ever have to plan one. (That is, unless my host mom gets her way and finds me a Moldovan groom. She only has 5 days left...)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

a little bit of randomness

1. I was recently visiting some friends, and the mother asked her 7-year-old son to bless the meal before we ate it. Knowing I would be leaving soon, she also asked him to pray for my safe return home. He bowed his head and promptly asked God to grant me many American entry visas.

2. My host brother, Vasile, (who works for the local police) and his work colleague, Iulian, stopped by our house the other night to grab a bite to eat during their shift. My host mother, never one to miss an opportunity to marry me off, suddenly looked at Iulian, turned to me, and said, "Katea! You're going to a wedding in a few weeks, aren't you? You should take Iulian as your date! He's single. That way he can buy the wedding present, and you won't have to pay anything. He'll even bring you flowers!" After extracting myself from that proposition as gracefully as possible by insisting that this wasn't necessary and I was just going with friends, she dropped the subject. But she then spent the rest of the meal hinting darkly at the fact that one month was still plenty of time for me to find myself a Moldovan husband. Thankfully, Iualian seemed to know what was good for him and kept his mouth shut.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

One Month

This past week I was at a family camp organized by the church I attend here in Moldova. It was a wonderful week, filled with the same activities integral to the Christian camps I had grown up with in America (swimming, playing games, lounging in the grass, long conversations with friends, nightly worship services). As the week progressed and more and more people started to tell me how much they would miss me when I was gone, I started to get panicky at the thought of leaving.

All of a sudden, a month seemed like no time at all. Before, when I spent time with a Moldovan friend or went somewhere new, there was always the possibility of seeing that person again, of visiting that place one more time. Now, with a month left, the reality of my leaving became painfully apparent. I'm no stranger to change; growing up, my family moved a lot. As a result, I've gotten quite good at saying goodbye. In fact, most times I'm downright stoic about it.

But this time isn't like all the others. This time there is the real possibility that I will never come back. Not only that, but the life I have here (the language I speak, the culture I live in, the food I eat, and the people I share my life with) can't come with me to America. A profound sense of loss came over me this week, and I'll admit--it scared me. I've never felt anything like that before. All of a sudden, I felt this almost urgent desire to somehow slow time. To make 30 days stretch into 60. I began to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of people I have to say goodbye to, by all I have to let go of.

I'm just now starting to realize how different this goodbye is going to be.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

New Pictures

I'm not very good at remembering to bring my camera along when I go places (or for that matter, taking it out of its case when I actually do), but I did manage to take some pictures in the past several months. I finally got around to posting them online. Feel free to check them out by clicking my photos link on the left side of the page.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Because Americans Like to Make Lists

As my time in Moldova is drawing to a close, the nostalgia has started to kick in. But nostalgia or not, I would be a liar if I didn't admit that there are a lot of things I won't be sad to leave behind. So I decided to make a list of everything I won't miss about Moldova. No worries--I haven't suddenly become bitter and cynical. I've also compiled a list of some of the (many) things I will miss.

I will not miss...
● eating soup 4 times a week, even when it's 80 degrees out
● common displays of public drunkenness
● living under a magnifying glass, and all the well-intentioned advice (criticism) that comes with it
● having to discipline my students in Romanian
● widespread corruption
● being asked if I'm married, why I'm not married, if I plan to get married, and would I like to meet a nice Moldovan boy and get married?
● being hit on by male students
● having to keep track of my students' attendance and grades by hand, in pen
● hearing European techno music everywhere I go
● living in a culture where it's socially acceptable for 14-year-old boys to smoke
● being shoved/cut in line as I try to wait patiently at the post office, bus station ticket window, etc.
● spooning with strangers on crowded public transportation

I will miss...
● my host mother's coltunasi, sarmale, placinta, mamaliga, and homemade donuts
● being able to speak 3 languages in one day
● buying 25-cent ice cream
● being greeted by "Hello, Miss Kate!" everywhere I go
● living in such a small country
● walking everywhere
● Moldovan holidays (Moldovans know how to party!)
● being able to travel abroad so easily (and cheaply)
● being able to fit all of my possessions into 2 suitcases
● striking up conversations with random strangers on a regular basis
● getting all of my fruits and vegetables from a garden, not a supermarket
● passing by goats, cows, ducks, and chickens on my daily commute to and from school

**Note: It goes without saying that the people here I've built relationships with are, by far, what I'll miss most. Since I'm sure I'll be writing more about them (in length) in upcoming posts, that's why I didn't mention them here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

When Good Romanian Meets Bad English

So I recently had an article written about me (I know, I know--I'm a big deal). Two other Peace Corps volunteers and I were interviewed because a new Chisinau newspaper was doing a feature on the Peace Corps in Moldova. The article itself is a nice tribute to the Peace Corps, and the other two interviewees and I were able to talk a lot about our experiences in Moldova over the past two years. When the article came out, it was, naturally, published in Romanian. I wanted my friends and loved ones back in the States to be able to read it, so I decided to paste the entire article into Google Translate to see what would happen. Now, for those of you not familiar with Google Translate, it's a program that allows you to type a word, sentence, or--it turns out--an entire webpage in a certain language, and it translates it into another of your choice. As far as individual words go, it's fairly accurate. But if you try to translate more than that, it starts to get sketchy (as my lazy students who try using it to translate entire essays have found out the hard way).

So when I pasted in the article, the result was a much more interesting article than the original. For those of you who are interested in reading it, just go to http://translate.google.com and type in the following url in the text box: http://ziar.jurnal.md/?p=3351. I hope you're as amused as I was.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Brains Before Beauty

When I arrived at my lyceum two years ago, I kept hearing references to a "Miss English" competition that had been held the previous year. I asked my colleagues about it, and they explained to me that "Miss English," which was styled in the format of a beauty contest, was a chance for English-speaking girls in the upper-level classes to compete in various contests requiring creativity, memory skills, and--most importantly--a good command of the English language.

The second installment of "Miss English," which I wrote about in a blog entry last March, was an extravagant affair. Eight different girls competed, each of them representing a different country (presenting information about the culture, showing national dances and costumes, and even preparing a national dish for the jury to sample). Each contestant also had to answer a series of trivia questions and perform a scene from a movie of her choice. All of this, of course, was done in English.

When those of us in the English department started planning for this year's "Miss English," we decided to do it a little bit differently. We narrowed the field of contestants to five girls, none of whom had competed in "Miss English" before. And in place of countries, we gave each girl an American/British holiday (namely, Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). In addition, each girl was given a script of a fairy tale (written by yours truly) to act out, but with a modern-day twist. We chose Little Red Riding Hood, the Princess and the Pea, the Snow Queen, Cinderella, and Snow White.

So as the second semester got underway, two of my partner teachers and I began to prepare in earnest for "Miss English." I was flattered to be so involved in the planning process this time around, especially since I got to show off my creative side by crafting the modern-day renditions of the fairy tales. But as "Miss English" approached, my stress level sky rocketed. I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, helping not only with the general planning but also helping Larisa, one of my students and a "Miss English" contestant, prepare.

Each of us English teachers was responsible for overseeing our respective students to help them with pronunciation and translation, and to keep tabs of their overall progress. Larisa had always been one of my stronger students, but this year she started to shine. When I asked her if she wanted to participate in "Miss English," I had no way of anticipating the result. She threw herself into it, telling me that she didn't really think she had any chance of winning, but she wanted to have fun and to make her friends and classmates proud. What most impressed me was her self-motivation. Not once did I have to prod her to practice more or to stay on top of things. She organized her own rehearsals, tracked down a slew of classmates and other random students to participate in her presentation, and spent countless hours assembling costumes and drawing and painting posters and pictures to use as visual aids (including a Halloween mural literally the size of an entire wall).

Even though I was excited to see Larisa's presentation take shape, I was becoming more and more disgruntled with the planning. It seemed to me (and it might just be because I am a slightly anal American) that too many things were being left to the last minute and that there was no possible way that everything would come together in time. In addition to that, "Miss English" was postponed on three separate occasions due to scheduling conflicts and sickness. By the time last Monday arrived, I was past the point of caring about how well it would turn out. I just wanted the stupid thing to be over with.

Somehow, miraculously, the program turned out beautifully. It was two hours long, which compared to last year's 3+ hour performance, was a welcome change. Other than a few minor technical glitches, things went smoothly. Our festivities hall was full, and even though a good portion of the audience didn't really speak English, there were enough decorations, music, and humorous elements (such as opening our show by having four of my 6-foot-tall 9th form boys dressed in drag come onto the stage, pretending to be "Miss English" contestants) to keep them entertained.

I watched proudly (and slightly nervously) as Larisa performed each of the elements of her program. As she introduced herself and gave her presentation about Halloween, Larisa talked to the audience as if they were a few friends sitting in her living room. Her English was clear, and she spoke so effortlessly that I almost forgot that she was speaking memorized lines. After a rousing performance of Cinderella (where she displayed some serious acting chops), it was clear that she was the crowd favorite. Still, I wasn't quite sure who our jury (comprised of two former "Miss English" contestants, two teachers, and my school director) would pick. When they said her name, the hall went absolutely wild. Larisa's face was priceless. She was utterly and completely shocked. When she came forward to give a brief acceptance speech, it was clear that she still couldn't believe that she had won. She spoke slowly into the microphone, trying to find the right words in English. And when she thanked me for all I'd done, I smiled so hard my face hurt. Who needs the Oscars when you've got "Miss English"?