Tag Archives: food

Champa’s Full Circle

Champa is part of an exclusive group: She was taught and inspired by Peace Corps Volunteers long before growing up to become one herself. Among the more than 230,000 Americans who have served since 1961, she has a special perspective on how volunteers can touch lives.

Her identity as a Nepalese-American has made her service — and mine — much richer. On Friday, for instance, we hosted a dinner party for some Moldovan friends, serving them Nepali curries and rice with an American chocolate chip cake and ice cream for dessert. We’ve also made Nepali food several times for our host family, shown below saying “namaste.”

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Champa especially remembers two volunteers, Susan Gibson and Janet Moss, who taught at her school in Ilam, the town in eastern Nepal where much of her family still lives. Another mentor was Dorothee Goldman, a PCV who befriended Champa at a training workshop after Champa became a teacher herself. Susan, Janet and Dorothee all taught Champa new skills and encouraged her to keep moving forward, helping her become the excellent teacher I encountered when I was posted as a volunteer to Ilam a few years later.

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After Champa and I got married and moved to the Washington, D.C., area to start our lives together, Dorothee reappeared in Champa’s life. The two of us were invited to a reception at the Nepalese embassy. We were dressed up and chatting politely with people when I noticed Champa staring at a young woman across the room. She went up to her and said, “Dorothee, what are you doing here?” Dorothee gasped and replied, “What am I doing here? Champa, what are you doing here?” The two of them embraced tightly, introductions followed and Dorothee and her husband, Mel, who also served in Nepal, became our dear friends. That’s them in the photo below, at their vineyard in upstate New York.

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With almost everyone in Moldova, Champa is the first person from Nepal they’ve ever met. Only a handful of other people from Nepal live here, one of whom married a Moldovan woman and now runs a restaurant, Himalayan Kitchen, that has become popular among PCVs looking for a change from the food served by their host families. The photos below show why they keep coming back.

Moldovans know almost nothing about Nepal but, then again, neither do most Americans. As people here have gotten to know Champa, they’ve asked about how she grew up, how Nepal compares to Moldova or whether she can see Mount Everest from her house. (Answer: No.)

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If we serve them Nepali food, we make it mild and they generally like it — although not always. We bought most of our spices, and the chocolate chips and brown sugar, when we visited home last summer. One of our guests on Friday was surprised we didn’t serve bread, a staple of every meal here. We hadn’t included chapatis, naan or puris on our menu, just rice.

Champa and I gave the Ganesh statue you see here to our host family and a few other local friends. He’s a symbol of good fortune with new ventures. We also brought some other Nepalese handicrafts, which have made great gifts.IMG_3676

The two of us are obviously foreigners but our unusual marriage has made us stand out even more in Moldova. “Diversity” here means someone is from, say, Ukraine instead of Moldova, or primarily speaks Russian instead of Romanian. There is a small Roma population but almost no people of African, Asian or Hispanic heritage. Moldovans are familiar with American diversity, such as from our music videos, but Champa and I are the first interracial couple many have ever seen, much less gotten to know. We’ve been aware from the beginning that our very presence would be as impactful in some ways as our teaching or projects.

Peace Corps has come full circle for Champa, who remains grateful to Susan, Janet and Dorothee for helping to change the path of her life. As she now prepares to return to her adopted homeland, she’s hoping she may have done the same with someone here.

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Buying Groceries

Shopping in Moldova can include Heinz ketchup, Lay’s potato chips, Tide detergent, Nescafe and a Coke. Add a bag of Skittles, too, if you want.

When Champa and I shop for groceries in Ialoveni, however, we usually buy products made in Moldova or in nearby countries such as Ukraine, Russia or Romania.

We cook our own food, a mixture of Nepalese, American and Moldovan dishes. There’s no doubt we eat better than some other Peace Corps volunteers around the world, especially since we live in a small city, but we always stay within our official food budget. Our daily diet is more modest than some of these photos suggest.

The local bread comes in many forms and is cheap and delicious. Cheeses are great, too. As you see, they come in many varieties. Salami is a local favorite. We love the fresh chicken and pork, which is much tastier than our supermarkets sell back in Durham. (Yes, that’s a pig’s head in the photo.)

Moldova is famous for wine and, as I’ve noted previously, its grocery shelves are stocked with local merlots, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and more, as well as cognacs, brandies and sparkling wines. The Ialoveni Winery is just up the street from us.

Our neighborhood markets also offer cakes from local bakeries, noodles from local pasta makers, candies from local confectioners and, of course, local fruits and vegetables that will soon be abundant and delicious. No surprise, we eat a lot of rice. We also can enjoy cheeses from Holland, persimmons from Israel and beer from Germany. One block from our house is the Sandra ice cream factory, with flags from both France and Moldova.

Champa and I have become regular customers at all of Ialoveni’s grocery stores, including two Victoria Markets and a UniMarket. We also shop at the Casa Cărnii store shown above, where I shot many of the photos in this post, and at some of the kiosk shops we pass on the main street as we walk home. Local farmers and vendors sell goods along the sidewalk, too.

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Just up the street is an apartment complex with a corner market where we often buy groceries. If you look carefully at the photo, to the left of the door, you’ll see it also offers an ATM machine for our bank. The “Farmacie” to the right of the door is actually a separate shop. Downstairs, by the yellow brick, is another shop, selling meat. The windows to the right are yet another shop, selling soaps and toiletries.

In other words, shopping in Ialoveni is a mixture of small grocery stores, neighborhood shops resembling bodegas and smaller shops specializing in certain kinds of products. At the other end of the spectrum is Moldova’s “super store,” Metro, which resembles Costco. We’ll visit there in a future post. Right now, I’m hungry.

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