Posted by: jamieasands | July 26, 2010

Mailing home

The Moldovan mail system is far more reliable than we originally gave them credit for. We have received letters (about 3 weeks later) and we have mailed home. At the end of our 9 months in Moldova we had acquired more than the four suitcases we came with could hold. There are a few options for sending things back. Adding extra baggage to our airline tickets was not an option because we were visiting three countries on our way to the States. We could send a suitcase on an airplane and have someone pick it up on the receiving end. This is about $70 per bag under 22 kilos. Or, we could rely on the Moldovan mail system to send it home for us. We went to the post office by the train station as we were told it was more efficient and less crowded. The week before we left we filled out the paperwork for the slow delivery of 6-7weeks as it was half as expensive as the 3-week delivery.

The boxes were wrapped in brown paper and sent off. It is less expensive for one large box than for two smaller ones. We paid $70 for our two boxes weighing in at 21 kilos together.

We did not expect to see these again anytime soon – if at all.

To our great surprise, our packages arrived in the U.S., safely at our parents’ home before we did.

With the brown wrapping paper, it was like Christmas opening the boxes.

Posted by: jamieasands | June 28, 2010

Moldovan Wedding

In Moldova, weddings are big business.

Let’s start with the dress. Most dresses are couture or one-of-a-kind, created especially for the bride. The attendants wear sashes and are actually the marrying couple’s godparents to the marriage. A couple is chosen who’s marriage will be a good example and they can go to for advice.

The civil ceremony is first and essensial. The reception will typically start at 7pm and goes all night. Yes, grandmas dancing till 5am. The tables are covered with plates of food served family-style. When one plate is taken away, another is presented in it’s place. Moldovan couples do not register for gifts. Money is given in envelopes. It would be considered rude to give less than one month’s salary. The godparents we have met gave two years savings. At the reception each person is expected to stand and announce the amount they have given. Nothing like peer pressure to force you to hold on tradition. The couple spends the money to buy an apartment or house.

There is live music and techno music to dance to all night. Many toasts and so much happiness you wish you could bottle it up and donate it to those in need.

If you are ever invited to a Moldovan wedding, do not shy away from the opportunity because of the money aspect. It is a grand and memorable event you will not regret or forget.

Cheers.

Posted by: jamieasands | June 28, 2010

Expatriate life in Moldova

There is a diverse community of international people living in Moldova who are all unique and interesting and an overwhelming majority of which love to socialize. For this, there is never a shortage of things to do.  From ‘Hash’ run weekend afternoons to playgroups, international women’s club, wine tastings, supper club and parties (including dance parties and a mustache party) our calendar has been full.

More than just being companions, expats will bend over backwards to help each other and go out of their way to meet other new expats and help to make them feel at home. There is an almost instantaneous camaraderie and a feeling of welcome into the international social circle. It has been a true joy to meet and know all of these amazing people.

Many beautiful friends, many great memories.

There is also an international school, QSI Chisinau, where I had the pleasure of being a full-time teacher substitute for two months in a class of 2nd and 3rd grade. Nine great students and many learning adventures later, I am profoundly changed from this experience. My daughter attended the preschool class at QSI and learned through interactive play and challenging academic experiences. She is four and is reading and doing addition and subtraction.

Sports Day

Writing prompt. Write a story about an empty glass.

Teachers’ end-of-year party

Natasha, Xander’s nanny is a great friend of mine and a treasured member of our family.

Swedish Ambassador’s Midsummer party.

From all of the amazing people we have met in Moldova – both foreign and nationals, we have learned many things and will cherish our memories.

Ladies night with great conversation, sushi and palm reading.

A going away farewell to our family. We were wrapped aluminum foil from foot to head and then we broke out of our cocoon like butterflies. This tradition was invented by Sunny Padula, another expat who used to live in Moldova and has since moved on to another adventure with his lovely family.

The expatriate life is ever changing. Go with the flow, make new friends and try to hold onto them as everyone moves around. Enjoy today.

Posted by: jamieasands | June 24, 2010

families visit

Our parents traveled over seven-thousand miles to Moldova. We had great adventures together. My In-laws were able to stay an extra week when the Icelandic Volcano’s ash cloud grounded air travel in Europe. You may be thinking, in-laws for an extra week, that is some kind of torture, but in this case, it is not so. My second mom and dad are great people whom I love. They were brave enough to travel overseas for the very first time to come to eastern Europe to visit us. We did not want to disappoint.

My parents, who are experienced travelers also made the journey, but despite fingers crossed, did not get an extra week in country.

Playing tour guides allowed us to realize how much we have learned about the Moldovan culture and to see things from a fresh perspective.

We visited Old Orhei and explored a monastery that is carved out of the rock cliff.

My husband, Zach took time-lapse of the clouds for his documentary on Moldova.  At old Orhei we were in the middle of a traditional village and in Saharna we found ourselves cleansed by the mist of the waterfalls and humbled by the tall mossy trees and crystalized caves.

The roads to get there are without exageration, the worst roads I have ever seen. This includes Michigan country dirt roads in Springtime.

A parade of geese and a Babushka rounding them up.

We remember homemade game night and wine cellars and the cemetery with pictures of peoples faces on their tombstones.

Picnics and unplanned memorable moments.

When we were looking we saw interesting sights like nintendo characters on the side of an apartment building.  and a wedding car decorated, as is custom with dressed dolls, bows and ribbons.

We explored and made discoveries  like this beautiful building that may have been destroyed by an earthquake 20 years ago. Just a guess.

We almost tried ‘pizza in a cone’, but thought better of it.

We found our moxie and tamed our surroundings.

most of all we enjoyed each other’s company. We love Moldova but truly miss our families. It was great to bring great parts of both together. Thank you Mom and Dad Richards and Sands for your visits. We will always cherish our memories.

Posted by: jamieasands | May 30, 2010

asking for directions

I will never complain about Michigan roads again. Driving in Moldova, particularly once you get outside of Chisinau, is like playing Moon Patrol on the Atari 2600. Zach actually had a blister on his hand just from clutching the steering wheel so tightly as we made our way to Saharna, a small city in the northeast corner of Moldova.

Needless to say, as the navigator, I was of little help. In my defense, there are no road signs. I don’t mean the road signs are in bad positions, set back from the road and hard to see; I mean that road name signs do not exist here. Occasionally a street name will be on a building in the city – but when you are in the countryside, good luck.

At one point, we turned on a little road that seemed to match the lines on our fold-out treasure map. Five miles later, we reached a dead end.  With nothing else to do we turned around and asked directions from some people in a cart being drawn by a donkey. It was difficult to discern meaning in their thick rural accents. Still, they were able to understand where we wanted to go and a little pantomime goes a long way when asking for directions.

They were fascinated with the idea of us as foreigners and asked where we were from. The grandmother told us of her visit to Paris in her youth and how she has always wanted to go back. Their donkey was dressed up with red bows and so I asked for a picture. Zach joked that it must have been the donkey’s wedding day. They were happy to have their picture taken and placed their daughter on their donkey for a better shot.

The grandmother sang a song for us and her breath hinted of an early morning happy hour. The children gobbled up the bag of chocolates we gave them. This made me wonder if not wanting to ration an indulgent treat like chocolate (which is hard to get when you are very far from any stores) is related to living off the land. When fruits and vegetables are in season (they only try for one growing season here) you must enjoy “while the pickin’ is good”, so to speak. Things that cannot be pickled are seldom enjoyed beyond the growing season.

These kind-hearted folks invited us to enjoy a meal and drink with them. We politely declined as we were on our way to somewhere else. They have left a lasting impression on us. After knowing them for a mere twenty minutes, there were hugs and cheek kisses goodbye. We waved to each other until they were out of sight. They seemed truly happy. Theirs is a simple, yet difficult life full of small joys.

Random interactions with native Moldovans can feel like meeting distant relatives for the first time.

Posted by: jamieasands | May 8, 2010

Central Market

The Piata Centrala (pronounced pe-at-za chen-tra-la) is the main outdoor market located in the heart of the city. Busses from all over Moldova travel there every morning and back every evening. You can find just about anything there, if you know where to look. Textile vendors skirt the inside and outside of the market. On the outside of the actual market you can find people sitting on small wooden boxes selling fresh milk and fresh wine in reused soda bottles and fresh cheese still in the cheesecloth inside plastic bags, inside purses. Booth space is small inside the market. Vendors selling eggs have a stall just big enough for a chair with eggs piled in a high pyramid. There is a fish section with fish sold out of tubs if the booth does not have refrigeration. There is an area for pickled things and if it is edible, Moldovans have found a way to pickle it.

You can taste test from many of the vendors. This second picture is of pickled watermelon which you may acquire a taste for as it is served with many traditional restaurant dishes as a garnish.

Home pickled things and home-brewed hard cider. In this same section you can find smoke-dried prunes that taste exactly like pipe tobacco smells, also an acquired taste I have yet to embrace.

Two fruit and vegetable sections are at each end of the four by three block market. The vegetables are fresh. By fresh, I mean they were growing earlier in the day and you buy them from farmers whose hands tell of a lifetime of hard-earned harvests. The produce here is organic but not labeled as such. Edibles have not been engineered or industrialized here. They are as nature intended, resulting in treats that are far more than delicious.

The carrots and potatoes still have dirt on them and there is no fancy packaging. These sections are true farmers’ markets and the least expensive place to buy produce in the city.

There is one main cheese house wherein you can try anything you wish and more.                             There are amazing cheeses here. If you will be in Moldova for some time, I suggest writing down the names of the cheeses you like as your purchase will not be labeled. In the above picture the vendor is offering is one of my favorites. It is the closest thing I’ve found to cheddar but a bit creamier.

Soon after moving here, a friend and I were at the cheese house and she took a large offered slice off a vendor’s knife and popped it in her mouth. Her eyes widened and she looked like she might have trouble swallowing this bite. She asked me what that was and I looked down at the case to translate to her that she had a mouth full of

butter.    The yellow in this case is cheese, the large white bricks are butter. I can tell you the butter here is soft and creamy, spreading easily straight from the fridge. Unless you are a huge butter fan, you can save yourself the taste test. The darker brick next to the butter (labeled 50) is chocolate butter. What? Yes, chocolate butter. I know this because after my friend and I stopped laughing about her having eaten butter I took a large slice of what I was told was simply ‘chocolate’ and ate it. I can’t help but wonder if they are secretly laughing at the naive butter-eating tourists or if it is common practice to down a tablespoon of butter for fun.

In this picture, there are white and pink rolls of toilet paper. The toilet paper has no center roll. I think the center roll is a huge waste of space and resources. Without the center, how does it hang and roll, you ask?  The part of the t.p. dispenser it rolls on is thinner than a pencil. You aim for the middle and poke the hole through. It can get a bit wobbly if your aim and poke technique has not been perfected but I do like the absence of the center cardboard as it also makes the roll last much longer. The downside to this particular, one and only brand, is it looks like crepe paper but feels like 300 sandpaper. It would be great for making party streamers but not so great for wiping. Advice: carry t.p. with you because public restrooms  (which are usually porcelain holes in the ground) do not have reliable resources.

This is a great shot because not only does it show the vast display of remote controls but the guy in the back is picking his nose. It seems to be socially acceptable to pick your nose and blow snot rockets in public. Hey, do what you have to do but for me, I don’t really want to touch something after snotty fingers, let alone buy it and take it home.

Many toy vendors sell items straight from China. We bought a doll for our daughter for her birthday and the packaging read this verbatim: “Comely entertain precious model, happy spark divide”. It was a good thing we could see what we were buying or I would have had zero idea what it was by the description.

Sunflower oil is inexpensive here as is the caviar.

водка (vodka) and cognac are inexpensive, quality offerings.

Tulips and housemade cheese. Pick something to focus on, but do it really well.

It is part of the Moldovan culture to push past people. Sometimes brushing past you, sometimes a full on body-check but not with malicious intent. I wonder if this is part of the former communist mentality. No longer is it “From each according to one’s abilities, to each according to one’s needs.” but more ‘each man out for himself.’ I am all for assimilating to the indigenous culture but I’ve never been much of a pusher and I definitely draw the line at pushing old ladies and babies.

The central market is bustling with activity. If you find yourself in Moldova, put it on your top ten sites to see. You can make excellent purchases like my pashmina scarf and realistic looking Gucci sunglasses for cheap. It is a place that can easily entertain and you will not forget. Never a dull moment.

Posted by: jamieasands | April 24, 2010

Superstitions

Every culture has superstitions. Not everyone believes in them but many people have actions that if explained to a foreigner would seem silly. These behavioral oddities are passed down through generations and become an integral part of the culture. My cultural heritage has several such superstitions: Toss salt over your shoulder for good luck (or to undo bad luck), knock on wood if you don’t want something to happen that has just been said (deafen the wood spirits), seven years of bad luck for breaking a mirror, never say ‘thank you’ for a plant that has been given to you or it will die, gum will sit in your stomach for seven years if swallowed, don’t open an umbrella inside (why?), don’t walk under a ladder or allow a black cat to cross you path for fear of bad luck, and many more.

Here in Moldova, there are many wives’ tales that I had never heard and find fascinating…

Money

Whistling, especially indoors and most especially, in the house, will cause you to not have money. Zach, my husband, has been asked to stop whistling by our building manager. She lives in the same building and worries her monitory affairs will be affected by his whistling.

Leaving the toilet lid up will cause your money to be flushed away.

If your palm itches, then money will be coming your way.

Relationships

A woman’s ring should not be handed to another person to look at. The ring should be taken off and placed on the table for the person to pick up, look at and place back on the table. The hand-to-hand exchange of  a ring could cause the woman’s husband to run off with her best friend.

Spilled salt on the table will bring disagreement.

If someone sneezes while speaking, they are telling the truth. Sneezing can also be a sign of joy.

It is bad luck to pass someone who is carrying an empty bucket, which is how most people get their water in the villages.

Health

Never accept jewelry from an unhappy person. Jewelry, especially gold, absorbs and transfers emotional energy.

You will not retain the information you are reading if you are eating at the same time.

Women don’t sit on concrete because it will ‘freeze the ovaries’.

In a sauna you should whack yourself on the back with a bundle of fresh stinging nettle.

Wind (especially cross wind) is dangerous. We have not seen any ceiling fans (they circulate air) and air conditioners are used instead of open windows. When a room is aired out, it must be blocked off and no one is to enter. I have been scolded by older people for skin showing on Alexander’s leg. Many children are in full snowsuits on 70 degree Fahrenheit days. Covering the ears is especially important.

Piles should be moved frequently. This includes leaves, mail, dirt, clothes and garbage which are thought to hold bad and stagnant energy.  Mind you, the pile is not picked up, just moved.

Catch honey bees and have one sting you on each appendage for good circulation.

On Easter you should wash you face with a traditional red-dyed hard-boiled egg. It will bring good health for the rest of the year.

Beauty

If you cut your hair on Sundays, it will grow slower.

If you cut your hair on Tuesdays only, you will have a long life.

Prophesy

A ritual to determine if you will have children and in what order their genders will be is to take a piece of the woman’s hair, place a wedding ring in the middle and fold, holding the ends of the strand of hair. The hair and ring are dipped between the thumb and fingers three times then held above an open palm. If the ring moves in circles, you will have a girl.  Back and forth for a boy.  If twins, the movement will be even move pronounced or switch between circles and lines. This ritual is performed for females by another woman.

Premonitions

A hungry person will come to your home if a fork is dropped to the floor.

Wear a red bracelet or red string on left wrist to keep people from looking at you strangely. Red strings are commonly seen on children to keep away the ‘evil eye’.

A crow flying overhead will bring bad luck unless you cross your legs as it passes.

If you forget something when leaving the house, it is bad luck to go back for it. Forget about it.

Do not change the sheets left from an overnight guest until they arrive to their destination safely.

Love

In the village, if a boy likes a girl he will steal the door to her family’s gate on St. Anthony’s Day.

If a girl likes a boy and wants him to like her she should steal her father’s socks and say his name while holding them and then sleep with them under her pillow.

Women should not sit on the corner of a table or she will not get married.


If you read this while eating, you will not remember what you have read. Do not read and eat! 🙂

Some people were reluctant to share these superstitions with me fearing that the knowledge of these wives tales may make the Moldovan people seem simple-minded. I do not think this at all. Of course not everyone believes in all of these but those that do display a strong bond to their creative ancestors and the tales of their wives. The knowledge of these aforementioned theories makes me appreciate the rich Moldovan culture more with each addition and I hope the same is true for anyone who reads this.

I want you to know that I, Jamie Sands, am not too proud to admit that I have my own little superstition. If the refrigerator door closes before I have looked away from it, what I am cooking may not turn out quite right. I know it is not true, but it is more like a game I play to make things more interesting. Maybe this reasoning is, in part, where superstitions come from.

Posted by: jamieasands | March 26, 2010

Getting lost is a great way to see the city

If you know me, you know I am directionally challenged.

Living here in Chisinau, Molodva without a car we are reliant on the comprehensive public transportation network. We use an interactive online map to aid our transit use. Most of the displayed routes are correct with only a few known exceptions.

The other day I saw a Moldovan friend on the street and we ventured together on a marchutka. She translated her dialog with the driver. He was saying he remembers me and how I rode to the end of his route and had to hop onto the next marchutka to go back the way I came. I did not take the money back that he offered. He said this was some kind of miracle. He does not see many foreigners ride the marchutkas and does not see many women traveling by themselves with a baby and small child in tow. He thought I was some kind of angel when I did not take my money back and when he started talking to the drivers of other routes he learned that I have done this a few times (ok, several:)

I don’t remember many drivers by face but when I am walking and one waves I wave back. I am sure there have been at least a few laughs at my expense. Comfort is found in knowing that in my daily interactions with the Moldovan people I am considerate of their culture, kind, and I try to speak their languages while attempting to navigate the city.

I have seen many parts of the city that I would not have seen if I had not been lost. There is hope for me too; I have a better understanding of the spacial relationships of different areas. I have not been turned-around for over a month and everyday I am more comfortable with venturing out. I might be an oddity hauling the kids around (sometimes carrying both of them and a large green bag too) but everyday is an adventure and I love it!

Public Transport: The electric trolley busses (attached to troll wires that run throughout the city) are efficient and usually close to being on time.  They stop only at designated bus stops when someone is waiting and/or when someone requests a stop. A person, usually a woman, squeezes their way through the crowd of people to collect the 2 lei fare (16 U.S. cents).  They run a continuous route looping back around to run again after they pass through their point of origin.

The “marchutkas” (or “routieras”) are small busses with a few of the seats removed for standing room and 15 comfortable seats.  Their routes are specific but they will stop at any point along the way to drop off or pick up passengers. People take their seats and send the fare up with the change passed by several sets of hands along the way. The marchutkas do not run a continuous loop but instead stop at the end of their route where there are others of the same number waiting in line to go.

Fare is not paid for children under six and the city is safe enough for many very young (probably 8 years old and up) to ride the marchutkas by themselves.

Posted by: jamieasands | March 14, 2010

Spring and Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is March 8th. In the U.S. it is uncommon to celebrate this holiday, but here in Moldova, women (and not just mothers) are celebrated. Female teachers, aunts, daughters, coworkers, wives and neighbors receive cards and many flowers (but not yellow.) Women get dressed up and go out to be social. It is a big deal here in Moldova. The husbands clean the house, make the meals and wait on their wives for at least the day (so I am told is the custom.) I told Zach, my husband, that this sounds like a great holiday.

The flowers shops are booming. Here are pictures of the 24-7 flower market downtown. That’s right, they are open all hours, all days, all year. Three full blocks of Banulescu-Bodoni street are lined with these shops. This is the biggest flower market in the city. Walking past these flowers shops is a delightful experience. The scent of flowers is so rich it follows you for an additional block after passing.

These pictures are taken from each end of the Three blocks of flower markets. There are unique ways of displaying flowers such as the strings of mesh cascading from the roses and sparkling glitter painted onto the edges of some varieties. In the picture to the left there is a thermometer taped to the pole and cardboard covering the muddy walkway where bricks have eroded away or disappeared.

There is another Moldovan tradition that is commonly celebrated this time of year. March 1st is Martisor, a welcoming of Spring. During the first week of March, people give pins (martisors) to family, friends, teachers and coworkers. It is customary to pin the gift on the clothing over your heart and transfer it to the clothing you wear all week or even all month.                                                                  These are some examples (I am sorry to say that the beautiful crocheted hearts my dear friend Donna gave me have been misplaced.) I have heard two different explanations of the Martisor. 1. The white symbolizes winter and the red symbolizes spring. 2. A reference to a legend wherein a beast holding the sun captive is slain by a brave warrior. The pin symbolizes the sword, the white, the snowdrop flowers of spring and the red, symbolizes love. The Martisors come in a multitude designs. There are also large ones to place on your door. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the custom is the vast number of vendors selling them.                                                                                                                                                                                       Entire blocks are lined with vendors standing shoulder-to-shoulder wearing makeshift cardboard display cases filled with their wares. It is fascinating to see the similarity in their displays and the differences in their tiny products. At the end of the week or month, many people then pin or tie the Martisors to a tree. This is said to bring good luck for the whole year and to encourage an early Spring.

Perhaps we could swap out the current Groundhog’s Day practice of shaking one’s fist in the air at a frightened groundhog for a Welcoming of Spring. This Martisor giving is a lovely tradition that I wish to incorporate into our family and share with friends.

There are many aspects of life and culture in Moldova that we wish to hold onto. It makes us wish we could be here longer if for no other reason than to absorb these experiences more fully.

Happy Spring to all, may it come early for you.

Posted by: jamieasands | March 4, 2010

Moldovan television

We are not big television watchers but on occasion we like to plop ourselves in front of our Moldovan tube and prepare to be entertained. The high theatrical value makes the programming very interesting.

There are several American television shows played here. They are difficult to enjoy because of the odd treatment of the dubbing. The original sound track is present and at almost the same volume as the dub over. When someone speaks you hear the English and like someone is loudly and rudely trying to speak over them, you hear the Russian. I wonder if this is entertaining for locals to watch or if they too, find it a bit annoying. It feels like a bad movie theatre experience where someone, who does not know it’s impolite to talk during the movie, is yelling into their cell phone about something unrelated.

The local Moldovan shows remind me of TeleMundo, the U.S. rebroadcast Mexican television station. I have enjoyed many a program on that channel. Mind you, I do not understand much of it, but am entertained nonetheless.

This past New Year’s Eve we stayed home with the kids and flipped through local channels. We had so much fun watching the talent. Some impressive, some outrageous but all unique and riveting. It was a blast (it was also a treat to see the fireworks through our skylights.) Click here to see some highlights.

People here seem to generally be physically fit. With only four local channels and a few Russian ones mixed in, I wonder if there is even a translation to ‘couch potato’.

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