Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Women's Day in Mereseni

Today was our first quiet morning with an interpreter. Since Peter spent the night with us, he was able to join us for breakfast at the hotel and give us explanations. We learned that the main item for breakfast (and that filled the role of oatmeal) is boiled buckwheat. It's more salty (and good) than you'd think.

Our goals for the day were to stay warm, buy a bicycle for Peter, pick up a few packages of books that had been sent to the Peace Corps headquarters, and then head to Peter's host family in Mereseni.

Peter had decided that he wanted to buy a bicycle, and that he wanted to do it with me. The thought of going with my son to buy a bike so that he could learn to tear up and down farm roads the same way his father goes up and down St. Joseph's Hill in Los Gatos was too good to pass up. But it had snowed a foot a few days before, the sidewalks were compacted snow, with a nice glaze of ice on top. We knew of one bike shop near the central market. With hats, gloves and at least one set of appropriate footwear we set out on our quest.

Our first stop was the central market. It was mostly outdoors, with stalls selling everything from food to clothing and shoes to CDs of Romanian music. The produce part of the market was meagre winter goods: walnuts, prunes, dried apples, lentils, pasta, and not a bit of green vegetables to be found. After that we went into an enclosed building... the refrigerated and meat market. One picture I did get was of the butcher area (I'll let you guess which meat was being sold in this area). I took this picture very quickly (my Minolta camera has a sub-second startup time) and put it away. Peter noted that people were very concerned about having their picture taken and gave us strange looks.

We did go to the bicycle shop, but the steel window shades were down, which telegraphed the "closed" sign. It makes sense for a bike shop to be closed on a day when you can barely walk with the ice, let along ride on two wheels; but it was still a disappointment. Once spring came, Peter did buy a bike (the model 2643 full suspension from DHS Bike, but he can describe that on his blog.

Our next stop was the Peace Corps Office. It was a nice building, with a gate and intercom (and a guard inside). The guard didn't answer the first two times we buzzed, and we almost went away in disgust. We gave it one more try, he heard us, and we entered. The volunteer area was on the third floor. There was a computer room (4 computers with a broadband connection), a room with two showers (which I was soon to appreciate the utter luxury of). There was a television room, with a plethora of old VHS tapes; a DVD player had just recently been purchased. There was a "library" in the hallway of books left by previous volunteers. The one area I captured in a photo was the volunteer storage area; this is Peter's area, and that of another volunteer. In toto, it had a very strong college survival aspect to it.

I did have one experience that I have not had since moving to California. I fell on the ice twice that day (one left a good bruise you know where). The thing that I had forgotten is that ice strikes the complacent; as soon as I stopped concentrating (100 meters from the hotel front door at the end of our trek), down I went.

We returned to the hotel, and managed to pack all of our (and Peter's) stuff into the cab. We filled the trunk, and had two suitcases in the backseat between Ann and me. The trip was about 40 kilometers, and full of major bumps and weaving (to evade the even-larger potholes).

We arrived in Mereseni, and took our bags to our room for the next three days. We stayed in a room next to Peter's, and both of our rooms were heated through a common wall. A coal stove provided the heat, and the chimney was ducted through this wall.

Peter's room was a nice size bedoom and a 7x7 foot room that contained the coal stove and a table for his computer and phone. He also had a water distiller and a Brita water purifier, and the obligatory refilled water bottles (more on this later). He had a nice setup. The peace corps also provided an electric/oil radiator heater, which he loaned to us to help keep our room warm (he had the warmer of the two rooms). Maria and Dmitru stayed in the "summer kitchen house", so most of the big house was vacant, but for Peter and our rooms. It was a shock to walk out of your bedroom and be confronted with 40F temperatures.

We had heard that slippers were required in Moldova, but had no appreciation of the issue. Here's how it worked in our situation. We stayed in the main house (and had a pair of slippers for inside). We had a pair of slippers for the summer house, which is also where we ate meals. Then there was a pair of slippers to use when going between the two houses. Between all the slippers and the shoes (one did not wear shoes beyond the entryway of the house), things got quite congested.

Our hosts were Maria and Dmitru. I have a picture of both of them, Ann, Peter, and me, but I still have to do some work from the flash reflection. But Peter took pictures at other times of Maria and Diana (their 21 year-old daughter) and Dmitru for your enjoyment.

Dogs and cats are different in Moldova. Or, to look at it a different way, they lead very strange lives indoors in the United States. Animals do NOT come indoors in Moldova. They stay outside, even in the cold. They had three dogs and one cat as you can see in
this picture and this. The funniest thing is that two of the dogs who look almost identical are father and son, and do not get along with each other. So, one hangs out with another dog to stay warm, and the other keeps warm with the cat.

Wednesday was also International Womens Day. This always had vague feminist/ communist overtones, but I'd never been to where it was natively celebrated. It was basically Mothers day. We brought flowers to Mereseni (always an odd number of flowers). The Hallmark/America "giving cards" was unknown. The cutest part of the evening was that the Moldovan State TV had an hour-long show for Women's day. It was a very spring-like set (with pastel colors and sets of large flowers) and had cute kids from 3-9 years old dancing to the beat while one of the talented children lip-synched a very cute song. It was tacky in a very cute way; the only issue is that it should have lasted just 5 minutes: we went into sensory overload after that amount of time.

The outhouse (especially after the Costesti experience, which I won't describe except as "gross") was truly exciting. The building was brick, had plaster all the way to the roof (so the wind did not blow through), and had an internal light. That, combined with a real seat, was a sight to behold (our views on life have changed in a few short days). I should note that whenever Ann complains to Peter about the quality of a place we stayed, his two questions are "did it have indoor plumbing" and "did it have running water?" It helps put things in perspective quickly.


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