Merry Christmas to all my friends and family back home. I am very excited to say that this will be my last Christmas away from home. As a Christmas treat here are a few interesting things about Christmas in Moldova.
- A vast majority of Moldovans are Orthodox Christians and mainly celebrate Craciun vechi (Old Christmas) which is January 7th, but people will also celebrate December 25th.
- Unfortunately for the kiddies, this does not mean Santa comes twice a year. In fact, Santa Claus, or Moș Craciun as he is known here, comes on New years eve. In Fact, New Years is the dominant winter holiday in most post Soviet states and here is an awesome article about it
- Santa is not accompanied by mrs. Claus, but by a snow maiden instead. I believe this dates back once again to soviet times when Santa was abolished in favor of a more secular “Grandfather Frost” who visited on New Year’s Eve
Merry Christmas everyone!
One thing that always truly leaves me amazed when abroad is the cultural impact the United States leaves on almost every country throughout the planet. Our popular culture (mainly movies and music) and language have penetrated into remote villages from South America to mountain villages in Tajikistan. I worked at a summer camp for kids who were studying English to go to an American high school for a year. They came from all over the former Soviet Union. From Russia, Turkmenistan, Armenia, and Ukraine, of different faiths and lifestyles, yet every one of them knew the lyrics to Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift songs. This invariably leads to an intense desire for many people to learn English. Many know that it is an international language of business, a skill that can help them work abroad and open a world of education and career possibilities, but many youth simply want to be able to understand the words to American songs and movies. Thus, many Peace Corps volunteers get roped into teaching English in their free time.
As you can probably tell, my grip on the English language is suspect at best. My grasp of grammar is weak, and I generally rely on Microsoft word to correct all my inconsistencies. Thus, I was a bit reluctant to attempt teaching. However, I have come to enjoy this part of my week quite a lot. I think watching someone intent on learning, and helping them in the process is really a rewarding feeling. I currently have both adults and youth in my English club, all working on English for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, most will not need my assistance in advance grammar topics since they are beginners and I will not have to show my embarrassing shortcomings in my native language.
For future volunteers, I would say don’t shy away from the opportunity even if you are worried about your teaching credentials. It is a great way to integrate in the community and make friends, it will often be one of the few things your community actually actively wants you to do, and it will advance your foreign language skills while preparing. If you have a bunch of young girls in your English club, whether it be in Thailand, Mongolia, or Peru, analyzing the lyrics to Justin Bieber songs is a sure fire hit for your lesson plans.
Moldovans are pretty proud of their wine making tradition, and is still an activity many rural families will take part in. For my American audience, I want to clear one thing up. This is not your sophisticated glass bottle of wine requiring a corkscrew. This is your homemade, filled in 3-year-old plastic water bottles and sold on the streets kinda wine. So this post, I want to run through the wine making process. This will be a quick and dirty version, and one in which I would not advise anyone to attempt to replicate because I doubt it will be met with success. I just want to give idea of what Moldovan wine making is all about.
Step 1: Pick the grapes.
Pretty self-explanatory. Many Moldovans, my host family included, grow their own grapes. This stage consists of heading out to the fields and twisting the clusters of grapes of the vine and putting them into big, coarse white sacks, and than loading those sacks into a van or on the back of a tractor to take back. Pretty basic manual labor, though with the advantage of being able to eat while you pick. Anymore than 2 hours of this though, and it becomes numbingly boring. After days and days of picking grapes and bringing them back at nightfall, all the grapes are finally collected. Now what?
Step 2: Next, you need to crush all of the grapes up and throw them into giant, open-topped wooden barrels. Depending on the size of the batches there are different ways to crush up all the grapes. Most do it with a metal grinder type contraption, but if you had a really small batch you could potential do it by walking on the grapes in a barrel as is often quaintly depicted. While this is going on….
Step 2.5 Cleaning out the barrels
We have 8 wooden barrels holding about 300L each down in our beci (basement or cellar). 4 for white and 4 for red. While this is going on we roll them up from the beci and my host dad cleans them out. These are massive wooden barrels, so often we roll them onto two sturdy ropes and use a type of pully system to roll them up and down the steps. My host dad then disinfects the barrels with some method that I am not privy too.
Step 3: Fermentation
The grapes then sit in these huge open air barrels and are let to ferment. For my host family, they left it to ferment for 5-7 days. The mass expands as it is fermenting so they have a big wooden prong stick they occasional use to press the bubbling matter back down. By this time, it does not look nor really smell all that appetizing. There are usually a thousand little fruit flies buzzing all over the place, and you really don’t want to mess with it.
Step 5: the final squeeze
From the fermentation phase, the crushed up mixture(still including stems, seeds, skin, etc.) gets placed into a cylindrical wooden barrel that opens on hinges into two semi circles. At the base is a metal piece with a faucet and a metal pole running out of the middle that runs up to the top where a crank is attached. One fills this barrel with the fermented mixture, and turns the crank to put downward pressure on the mixture. Out of the faucet drips sweet new wine (often called must, which is literally a mix between grape juice and wine). This is siphoned out of large bowls down a long black tube into the freshly cleaned out barrels in the cellar.
And thus, you have the footnotes version of making wine. The pictures below will help you visualize the process much better than my rushed, 5th grade descriptive abilities.
One of the great joys of living in Moldova is fresh fruit and vegetables. A tomato here makes what we have at home unworthy of the name. Our tomatoes at home are giant, water-filled, and tasteless balloons by comparison. Now, before I go on, I am not trying to advocate any all organic diet, or go on some diatribe about how “processed” everything we eat is. I frankly am not that bothered by it, and as friends and family can probably attest, if it’s edible, I will eat it. I fully understand the reasons in terms of price, convenience, transport, etc that goes into American fruits and vegetables. No, I simple want to say how delicious fresh fruits and veggies are. What a simple pleasure a fresh peach or tomato can be. I will truly miss this about Moldova, as I feel most volunteers will. Buying 2.2 lb (1kg) of peaches for under a dollar is a habit that will be hard to give up back in the states. However, the other side of the coin is that seasons can be fleeting. Sometimes mere weeks is all you get of one type of fruit or vegetable. Then, you wait again until next year, or hope some import from Greece or Turkey shows up in the capital. This post is just a simple lament. Winter has come and with it a steady diet of potatoes, pasta, meat, more potatoes, pickled veggies which just taste uniformly like vinegar (even the pickled watermelon), more potatoes, maybe some fried eggs, and finally potatoes.