All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.

Robert Kennedy

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Touring the countryside

Isn't it funny that when you vacation somewhere, you're always interested in 'the local' experience and when you live somewhere you tend to forget to do the 'touristy' things? 
Such is the case. My dear friend Lindsay set up a few tours to two of the Moldova touristy destinations this past weekend. She had a guest speaker on domestic violence visiting and decided to show her some of the Moldovan countryside. Lindsay ropes me in to doing these things and usually drags me kicking and screaming, but as usual, it was wonderful.
On Saturday she scheduled a tour to the winery for Milestii Mici wine. (Meel-esti-meech). It is the longest underground wine cellar in the world, according to Guinness Book of World Records. So Lindsay, visiting guest, Karen, and a van full of some volunteers drove out to the winery. We spent a few hours there, even ran into the U.S. Ambassador on a similar tour. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon.


Outside the winery.

There was a wedding party taking photos. These are the brides shoes. I shit you not.

Me and my friend, Rachael. One of the few gals my age here. (I want her to marry my brother, Bob)

All of us. Bill, Karen, Zach, Me, Lindsay, Kitson, Chris, Kerry, Brittany, Ashley and Rachael.
On Sunday, Lindsay scheduled a tour to the Orhei Vechi (or-hey veck) monastery. Now, I had been there during training in the summer of 2011 so I wasn't too interested in going. But as usual, Lindsay talked me into going. Even my roommate, Holly, took a bus in the morning to join us. I was glad I did. (Shut up, Lindsay)
What I didn't know was that they hired a tour guide and we got to ride through Chisinau and the countryside with the history being explained to us by a local. I was pleasantly surprised and learned a lot about Moldova. The tour guide was a sweet girl, Natalya who had nothing but pride for her country.

The welcome sign into Chisinau. Yes, 1436...things are a tad older over here.

Me and Lindsay

A game for children to put a thin rope around their waist and crawl up the giant hill of the ravine into a window. It truly was horrifying.

Looking down into the monastery.

It's officially cherry season here.

Table settings for a traditional Moldovan Masa for a wedding reception.
When we left the monastery, we went to a local pension where an elderly Moldovan lady provided us with cooking lessons for traditional Moldovan cuisine and then we had a Masa and ate all the food we made. We sat at a table in her garden at the bottom of the ravine, it was completely breathtaking. One of the best days I have had in Moldova.

Making local treat. Dough rolled flat. Filling is brinza (local cheese, like feta), dill, leeks, garlic and egg.

Doamna Liuba shows us how it's done.

Finished product after being fried in oil (of course). 

Me, giving it a try.

Finished sarmale. Grape leaves stuffed with rice, peppers, onions, carrots, pork and garlic.

Karen enjoys some fresh mint tea after the meal.
It is a magical place. They are trying to incorporate a bike-sharing project to give tours. Please visit the link and contribute if you can. These are good people and are preserving the natural wonders of this country.

Less than 40 days to go. Starting to get weird now...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Food, glorious food!

One of the most common questions I get is 'what is the food like?' A valid question. 
So, the best food that I have had here is шашлик (Sha-sh-leek) which is basically grilled pork on a skewer with onions and peppers. There is a specific marinade that just makes it very Moldovan that I haven't quite understood yet.

Another favorite I have learned to love, Mama Liga which is like a hard cornmeal side dish usually smothered in sour cream and shredded local cheese. Delicious. 
BUT, I did want to learn to make a few things. So I did what any sane person would do and asked some locals to teach me. 

Lesson #1 - Борш! (Borscht)

I grew up with a Polish style borscht which contained a lot of kielbasa and hot dogs and boiled eggs. That is what we had (and still have) for every holiday. When I moved here, it was a Russian style borscht which has a beet base. I know what you're don't eat vegetables! Well...when in Cahul... I do eat a lot more vegetables now than I ever have, but still not nearly as much as I should.
Our dear friend Natasha came over and gave us a borscht making lesson. So Borscht is a soup made of cabbage, beets, carrots, onions, potatoes and meat with some spices. It is delicious. It took me about a year to really appreciate it but now I love it and am so happy that now I know how to make it.

Boiling a head of shredded cabbage.

Shredded beets and cabbage.

Putting it all together to simmer.

Finally, can't have a bowl of soup in Eastern Europe without a gob of sour cream. Delicious.

Lesson #2 - Фаршированный перец и голубцы (Stuffed Peppers and Grape Leaves)

Our dear friend Sasha's mother offered to teach us how to make these from scratch and it took a long day (with a lot of wine) to do them all. 

Diced onions, carrots, peppers, giblets and fatty pork.

Fresh Grape Leaves.

Throwing it all together.

Cored peppers.

Adding the rice to the mixture.

Sasha enjoying the knife sharpening process...a little too much.

Stuffed and ready to cook. 

Packed the pot tightly so there are no gaps.

Covering it with extra grape leaves.

Looked through one of their old Soviet photo albums.
 They were delicious. And this family is wonderful. I'm so happy to be able to spend the day with them and speak Russian and exchange cultural recipes and stories. They have opened their homes and their hearts to us. It will be very difficult to say goodbye to them.
Vlad (Sasha's brother), Me, Gheorge (Sasha's Dad), Nelya (Sasha's Mom), Jesse and Holly.
(Sasha is taking the photo.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Human Trafficking Awareness Festival 2013

In Romanian it was called: Festivalul Libertății
In Russian it was called: Фестиваль Свободы
In English we would call it the Liberty Festival. My organization along with the town of Cahul that I live in, was awarded a democracy grant from the U.S. Embassy. This grant was to fund a 10 month awareness campaign of human trafficking issues here in Moldova and the rest of the EU, Middle East and Asia. The Liberty Festival is a week of events to promote this awareness. It is the second annual such festival as we try and promote the dangers of human trafficking.
The week kicked off with a concert by Indian guitarist, Benny Prasad.
Benny is in the Guiness book of world records for traveling to all of the countries in the world in the shortest amount of time. He also plays his self-invented instrument which is a combination guitar/harp and bongo. 
Benny's one-of-a-kind guitar.
Benny has also traveled the world in promoting human trafficking awareness. 

Ross and I after the concert with Benny.
On Wednesday, visiting Psychiatrist Dr. Steve Critchlow of Belfast came to give a seminar discussing anxiety and PTSD in returned victims of human trafficking. Many social workers, psychologists and school nurses attended the seminar.
Dr. Steve Critchlow

Participants in the Anxiety/PTSD seminar.
Wednesday and Thursday, a local social theatre troupe called "Trust" traveled to local villages to perform a piece on Human Trafficking. 

My work partner, Vica, introduces the theatre troupe.

Typical Moldovan lunch break.

Some of the organizers with "Trust."

The theatre group was great. I will be sitting down with them later this week and interviewing them. Stay tuned...

Friday morning, we had a round table discussion with local NGO leaders, border patrol guards, local police, local politicians as well as the Peace Corps Director from Moldova and a representative from the U.S. Embassy.
Nicholae Dandish leads the discussion.

Michael Ball from the U.S. Embassy describes the current projects combating trafficking the Embassy is sponsoring.

The U.S. Peace Corps Country Director for Moldova, Janet Utecht with Marta Dunas, organizer and translator.

Ross and I with Janet, the country director.

And finally, after a long week, we ended with a concert from local band, AKORD and singer Cristina Croitoru.

Moldovan Band "Akord"

Singer Cristina Croitoru. (Check out her heels, she danced around like they were sneakers)

So, it was a long week, a lot of work and we are all exhausted. But it was successful. Lots of work still to do to combat this plague but at least there's a jumping off point.

Our T-Shirts. Stop human trafficking.

The organizers with the band Akord and singer Cristina Croitoru.