Tag Archives: Haley Bader

What My Friends Are Seeing

What’s the latest in Moldova?

Many of you have been asking me that since Ukrainian refugees began flowing across the border in late February. More than 350,000 have entered Moldova and about 100,000 remain in this small country of less than 3 million people,. 

In my last post, I described how my former neighbors in Ialoveni, near Moldova’s capital, have welcomed the refugees generously. A New York Times video, PBS video and USA Today article tell similar stories about Moldovans nationwide.

In this post, I want to share some of what I’ve been hearing from American friends who are close to the situation, especially former Peace Corps Volunteers who (like me) retain a deep affection for Moldova.

Haley Bader, who served in my group and is now back in Comrat as a journalist, reported recently that “exhausted women, children, elderly men and people with medical issues or disabilities are bleeding across Moldova’s borders daily. From the north to the south, authorities are setting up tents and converting old boarding schools, exhibition centres and kindergartens to house those who are fleeing.”

Moldovans worry whether Putin may invade their country next, although that danger may have eased as Russian forces bog down in Ukraine. What is clear is that the refugees have come in large numbers, and the Moldovans have embraced them. My former host sister has gone to a train station in Bucharest, where she now lives, to invite young Ukrainian women to rest at her apartment.

We visited Chris Flowers at his post in Criuleni while we were all serving as Peace Corps Volunteers. That’s him in the middle.

“I’m seeing lots of cars with Ukrainian license plates on the streets of Chişinǎu,” says our friend Chris Flowers, another former PCV who now directs American Councils Moldova. “This is putting a strain on resources and infrastructure in the country. Despite how generous everyone is now, this level cannot be maintained and outside assistance will be needed.”

Former PCV David Smith agrees. “The Moldovan government has heroically responded with its limited resources and without any past experience dealing with a humanitarian crisis of this size,” he writes in his excellent newsletter. The response has been “amazing, inspiring and necessary” but is unsustainable. 

David Smith met with Moldovan President Maia Sandu, who came to his restaurant to support its refugee assistance efforts.

David has converted his Chişinǎu restaurant (which I featured in this article) into a center offering free food, clothing and other resources. Local volunteers assist the effort, including Peace Corps staff coordinated by Hannah Gardi. Lines stretch out the door. (Here’s a video clip of the line this morning.) Their work is admirable but, as David concluded in his last post, “Where is the cavalry?” 

Carol Spahn, acting director of the Peace Corps, left, traveled to Moldova to support local staff. She prepared meals with my former Romanian language teacher, Diana Prodan.

A friend on the Peace Corps staff wrote me to say: ““It is insane what is happening. We just don’t know where to direct all these refugees for help. The rollout of international help is very slow and disjointed.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with President Sandu and other Moldovan leaders.

The American Embassy in Moldova recently announced plans to provide assistance, as have other governments and international organizations. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other Western leaders have visited to show support. Chişinǎu’s convention center, where Champa and I attended a Moldovan friend’s fashion show, is now filled with refugee families.

Israel Collier is the co-founder of A.C.O.P.E.R.I.

Former PCV Israel Collier heads a nonprofit organization that assists Romani families and immigrants in Moldova. “This war has underscored the need for our service” she wrote me. “We’ve assisted at least 100 Ukrainian families (including many Romani families often rejected at placement centres). They specifically reach out to us because of our mission. We are currently delivering nonperishable food items, clothing and toiletries, to centres in Chišinău, Drochia and this week Soroca.

Another friend, Alex Weisler, and his colleagues at JDC, a global Jewish humanitarian organization, have moved quickly to assist the refugees. As Alex describes in this recent video from Moldova, “they haven’t eaten, they’re scared, they’re confused. They come here and they receive a sense that they’re not alone.”

Other groups are also helping, from Christian evangelicals to North Carolina nurses, who trained Moldovans how to assist refugee populations. Another former PCV friend, Rebecca Lehman, now in England, is helping a group there. Vladimir Snurenco, who led an English language center in Chişinǎu where I taught some classes, wrote me about an art sale in Michigan that raised money for Ukraine.

I’ve been working most closely with Friends of Moldova, an organization of returned PCVs that has raised more than $200,000 and distributed funds to shelters, churches and others. The group’s president, Bartosz Gawarecki, described the effort in this television interview. He recently returned to Moldova to help open new refugee assistance centers.

The North Carolina Peace Corps Association, on whose steering committee I serve, has generously donated to Friends of Moldova and the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine. In a few weeks, I’ll be speaking at the Rotary Club of Raleigh about these and other initiatives.

There is a lot happening, in other words, and I could have included more examples. Yet as my friends keep telling us, the situation remains stressful. David Smith is right: They need the cavalry.

I wish I could have provided a cheerier update about what’s happening in Moldova, but this is the reality. If you share our concern, I encourage you to contact anyone you know who may have some influence over the situation. Donate to Friends of Moldova or another organization. Attend a rally. Write a letter. Please help.

Celebrating ‘Our Language’

Suppose America organized a big party every year to celebrate the English language.

That’s what Moldova does with Romanian through its annual Limba Noastră holiday, which it celebrated again on Thursday. IMG_7223The words mean “our language” in Romanian, which is the official national language here.

Simultaneously, one in four Moldovans speak another language as their native tongue, mainly Russian, Ukranian or Gagauz, all of which have official status in certain regions.

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Limba noastră is also the title of Moldova’s national anthem. Just as The Star-Spangled Banner honors the American flag, Moldova’s anthem proclaims the Romanian language to be a “treasure” that is “more than holy,” a heritage that “surges from deep shadows the past.” You can see a video of the anthem at the top of this post or on YouTube.

The Limba Noastră holiday goes beyond language to celebrate Moldova’s heritage more broadly. It occurs immediately after the country’s Independence Day, adding a cultural counterpoint to the politics of Moldova’s identity. Both celebrations are followed by First Bell, on September 1, when schools across Moldova hold colorful ceremonies to open the new year and ring out summer.

Here in Ialoveni, hundreds of people gathered at the Casa de Cultură, or cultural center, on Thursday to celebrate Limba Noastră. There were musical performances, dramas, dances and poetry, some of which you can see here. The library where I work, Biblioteca publică orăşenească „Petre Ştefănucă,” organized the program together with the town hall, or primăria, and the cultural section of the county government, or Consiliul Raional. It also created a series of exhibits celebrating Moldovan authors and the Romanian language. That’s library director Valentina Plamadeala speaking at the ceremony in the photo above.

During its Soviet period, Romanian was called Moldovan to distinguish it from the adjacent country with which so many Moldovans feel connected. Some people still insist on calling the language “Moldovan” even though its differences with the Romanian spoken in Romania are slight.

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In places like Ialoveni that have strong ties to Romania, most people embrace the holiday, seeing the Romanian language as part of their ethnic identity. One speaker at Thursday’s ceremony recalled how he and others were forced to speak Russian in the years before Moldova’s independence. For them, limba noastră has a resonance that goes deeper than the language itself.

Elsewhere in Moldova, the holiday can be perceived differently. One of my fellow volunteers who lives in a Russian-speaking area said his host father calls it limba voastră, or your (not our) language.

The relationship between language and identity is complicated, in other words, and not always easy for an American to understand. We have plenty of experience with these issues back home, though, so the story can sound familiar despite the translation.

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Want to learn more? This article offers useful background about Moldova’s languages. Also interesting is this article about how language is perceived by different groups in Moldova. [Hat tip for the second article to my volunteer colleague Haley Bader, whose excellent blog you should check out.]