Mărțișor

March begins tomorrow, which means it’s time for Mărțișor! Mărțișor is a month-long Moldovan/Romanian tradition that celebrates life, new beginnings, and the coming of spring. On the first (tomorrow!) people will give each other little red and white adornments to wear. In some regions, these adornments are to be worn for the first 12 days of March, while in others they are worn until the end of March or the first sign of spring. I’m not sure what’s the most common practice in my city, but I’ll let you know!

We have been making these Mărțișor adornments at the center for the past week and a half. You can also buy them on almost every street and in the markets. Here’s a picture of the one I received from the center.

Other designs that are common include pom poms and rings. I’ve also experimented with paper cranes!
Other designs that are common include pom poms and rings. I’ve also experimented with paper cranes!

The following is a traditional Moldovan folk story that explains why the colors of Mărțișor are red and white. My co-worker shared this story with me the other day. I hope I didn’t leave out too many details!

On the first day of March the Spring Princess was skipping through a snowy valley full of white snowdrops (a flower). Everywhere she stepped the snow melted, and in its place signs of spring began to appear. As she was making her way through the valley she met the Winter Princess. The Winter Princess was furious that she had to leave in favor of the Spring. Winter was so mad in fact, that she began a fight. During the fight Spring cut her finger, and a drop of her blood fell on the snowdrops. With this drop of blood all of the snowdrops in the land turned red. This marked the end of the fight, and the Winter Princess left. Thus, the two colors (red and white) symbolize Spring’s victory over Winter, as well as the ideas of rebirth and continuity. 

I’m very excited that spring is coming. There are many places I want to visit that have so far been off-limits because of ice/the snow/the cold.  I also can’t wait to see why Chisinau is called the “Greenest City in Europe.” I’ve been told that there are some great parks in my area, perfect for picnics once it warms up!

I’ve been to a few parks, but somehow it’s not quite the same when everything is frozen!
I’ve been to a few parks, but somehow it’s not quite the same when everything is frozen!

For more information about the history/ethnology of Mărțișor:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C4%83r%C8%9Bi%C8%99or

http://www.romaniatourism.com/martisor.html

http://www.e-scoala.ro/martie/martisoren.html

http://www.tkinter.smig.net/romania/Martisor/

 

Iasi, Romania!

Last Sunday I went to Iasi (pronounced Yash), Romania. I officially went to sort out my temporary residency permit. However, unofficially the trip turned out to be a great way to combat cabin fever (it’s been cold and misty in Chisinau for the past few weeks, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in my apartment), as well as see more of Eastern Europe.

There are multiple buses that go to Iasi each day, traveling through the Moldovan countryside to get there. The bus I took left at 6:30am, and reached Iasi at 10:30am. After a smooth journey there, I arrived at the central bus station. I panicked a little in the parking lot because I had no idea how to get to the city center. (Why did I not anticipate this?? Note to self: print out a map before going to a new city!!) But I decided to hop on the most crowded trolley  (I figured that at least a few of those people had to be going somewhere interesting), and luckily I found the heart of the city, or at least the tourist-y bits!

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As I arrived in the center I quickly realized that, as it was a Sunday, some of the museums that I had originally planned to visit were closed, and many of the churches were in session. However, this meant that I could slip into the back of the services and listen to the choirs, as well as see some of the breathtaking interior architecture.

Bărboi Church
Bărboi Church
Golia Monastery
Golia Monastery
Three Hierarchs Monastery
Three Hierarchs Monastery
Casa Dosoftei
Casa Dosoftei

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After walking around for a couple of hours, I went to sit down for lunch. I found a food court in a mall with an amazing view of the palace. It was truly beautiful. Plus the clear blue skies made the palace look like something out of a fairytale.

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After eating lunch I picked up a chocolate filled pretzel, and continued with my self-guided walking tour of the city. I saw church after church, and by this time I also got to shamelessly watch all of the people streaming out of the services. From my observations it seemed pretty evident that Iasi is more economically developed than Chisinau. However, even within Iasi I saw striking disparities in wealth, particularly between the grandeur of the main churches and the poverty of those begging outside.

When I finished my chocolate pretzel and decided that I had seen as much of the center as I could in one day, I took the trolley to its end, and explored the more industrial boundaries of Iasi.

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And then I took the bus back to Chisinau! All in all, I consider it to have been a successful day. I got to see some of the Moldovan countryside, and of course go to Romania! I even managed to complete the necessary paperwork for my permit and successfully navigate customs (although to be fair, all this consisted of was getting on and off a bus a couple of times to show my passport to border patrol officers who all spoke English). But still, it was my first solo trip to a new country. And now I’m eagerly planning future adventures! The other places on my “Spring 2014 bucket list” include Bucharest, Budapest, Brasov, Odessa, and Istanbul. Hopefully  I can make it to them all before July!

Work Update

Hi Everyone!

Last Tuesday was my one-month anniversary in Moldova! I can’t believe I’ve already been here for a month! Time really flies by.

Today I realized that I haven’t posted an update about my work at the center for a while, so I thought I would share what I’ve been up to!

Report Writing

In the past month most of my administrative work has been helping the director write a report for the IOM. This report outlined the center’s progress in the past year, and described how various grants have been used to support the project’s mission. It focused primarily on the center’s medical records and how the staff supports the beneficiaries’ physiological and psychological health. I’ve also worked on a couple of other smaller written reports/proposals during the past month. All of these reports were written in English, so it was my job to ensure that they were grammatically correct and generally made sense. It is interesting to learn more about the center’s work, as well as the project’s international partners, and I find that working on these administrative projects gives me the opportunity to do so.

Working with Beneficiaries

When I am not working on administrative projects, I am working with the beneficiaries. This usually translates into playing an inordinate amount of Jenga and Uno with kids aged 3-14 (but sometimes we play more educational games, or games that are based in play therapy). However, because the children at the center are generally only transiently living in Botanica/Chisinau, many are not attending school as of now. This makes it difficult for the children to keep up with their grade level, as well as gives them nowhere to go during the day, which ultimately makes it important that we provide interesting and stimulating activities for them to get involved in at the center. Luckily the center does have a partnership with a local school for those staying for extended periods, and this has allowed two children to go to classes. Some of the children are also quite set on learning English, and so we go through a lot of vocabulary at the center (supplementing the English lessons that some of them receive at school).

While most of the children are very easy to work with, at times I have run into more challenging situations. For example, one of the boys often is violent when excited. I am not one for confrontation, especially in a language that is not my first, and so it is times like this where I really wish I spoke more Russian/Romanian (and was a little more assertive!). We also see a lot of learning disabilities among the beneficiaries. I am finding it a challenge (in a good way though!) to learn how to address things such as dyslexia and dyscalculia.

All of the “fun” programs we put on for beneficiaries are optional. This means that, for the majority of my time working with the beneficiaries, I work with the children (who are more eager to play and socialize with us volunteer/staff member types). However, I sometimes work with their parents and other adults. A few of them speak English extremely well, and communicating with them has helped me understand more about what it’s like to live in Moldova and Transnistria. For example, we have discussed why there is so much migration out of Moldova and how corruption/nepotism/cronyism in both the government and the private sphere makes it very difficult to find work in the country.

Final Thoughts

My schedule at the center is still very much in limbo, which means that while on some days I come in and have a million and one things to do, on other days I sit around for my shift and literally *just* drink tea. This can be frustrating, and although it is teaching me to be more flexible and show more initiative, I do want to spend more time being useful. However, I have been told that this is quite common across all projects, and overall I definitely think that I have been lucky to experience so many of the different divisions of the center.

Up Next: Pictures and more from my trip to Iași, Romania! 

Celebrating an Early Valentine’s Day!

Happy (Early) Valentine’s Day from Chisinau!

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Today I went to a Valentine’s Day fair with my mentors! It was located on the bottom floor of a shopping mall (I was told the space is usually a shoe shop), and was full of different food and trinket stands – all Valentine’s Day themed, of course.

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I had an absolute blast. There were fake weddings being officiated (in an ironic/hipster-y way), and a polling booth where you could vote for the fair’s most eligible bachelor. There was also a TON of chocolate, face painting, and different charities being represented. But my favorite part had to be the salsa dancing performance, followed by our very own salsa lesson!