Tag Archives: Ialoveni

Easter in the Cemetery

Our neighbors ate, drank and shared memories a few days ago in a place that may surprise you: the local cemetery.

They were there for Paştele Blajinilor, or Memorial Easter, a week after Orthodox Easter. Like families across Moldova, they gathered at the graves of their loved ones, placing flowers and food besides the tombstones, lighting candles and enjoying a meal together.

The photo on the left shows what the cemetery at the Biserica Acoperământul Maicii Domnului in Ialoveni usually looks like. On the right is the same cemetery on Monday, when Champa and I visited.

We saw dozens of families spreading containers of food and bottles of soda, wine and cognac on tables or cloths near the graves. They had traditional local foods along with colored eggs and special bread. A priest circulated to say prayers. Families visited with their friends and neighbors, sharing food and wine as they remembered grandparents, parents, spouses and others. IMG_4384They dribbled wine on the graves and left behind food and candles. The mood was friendly but subdued and respectful.

Our host family was out of town visiting the village home of our host mother. Yet we felt welcome among everyone we saw. The woman in the middle of the photo with Champa knows us. She and her daughters stopped us as we were wandering around and insisted we share some food and wine with them. They also gave us a small gift bag with treats inside. Many families also use this occasion to donate food and small gifts to the poor.

IMG_4385Paştele Blajinilor, which traces it origins back to pre-Christian times, is celebrated widely in Moldova and parts of neighboring Romania. It reminded me of the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, although the religious significance is quite different since it coincides with Easter instead of Halloween.

The church you see here is on a hill on the other side of Ialoveni from where we live. As usual in Moldova, we traveled there on foot, walking about 9 km. roundtrip on roads still slick and muddy from a recent spring snowstorm. The trip was worth every step. We were moved by what we saw and felt privileged to take part in such a memorable event, a picnic in a cemetery to feed your soul.

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.


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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Web Designers

This is Mihai, with the first website he ever designed. It’s about our city, Ialoveni.

Victor has his first website, too, about Moldova’s famous wines.

This boy, also named Mihai, made his first website about his family.


All three boys are in my weekly computer class at the Ialoveni library. During the past several months, they’ve learned some JavaScript, Excel and other programs. Two weeks ago we turned our attention to website design. Since I am most familiar with WordPress, which is also available in Romanian, that’s what I told them to use to build their first sites.

In fact, I created this post — the one you’re reading now — while they were watching, to show them how to do it. I snapped their photos with my iPhone, uploaded them to my blog on WordPress and inserted them here.

Perhaps you were surprised by Victor’s site about Moldovan wine, given how young he is. When I pointed this out to him, he produced the following screen. Enjoy:


Poems, Dances and Songs

Ialoveni students performed poems, dances and songs to welcome Claudia Partole, a popular Moldovan author of children’s stories and other books. She spoke at the local library. Don’t miss Champa receiving her certificate. (The video is also on YouTube at https://youtu.be/_eRms9fmshU.)

Bardar Water Project

Moldova’s wells are omnipresent, picturesque and often unsafe, with water that may contain parasites or chemicals. I photographed these two when I lived in the village of Bardar during my Peace Corps training.


Soon their water quality won’t matter so much. On Friday, I attended the kickoff conference for a project that will connect Bardar to a modern water system, providing safe running water for many of its 6,000 residents.

The Slovak Republic, primarily through SlovakAid, is donating financial and technical support for the project, which is scheduled to run through May 2018.

Ambassador Robert Kirnág, center, and other Slovakian officials spoke at the meeting.

“Fresh drinking water is a fundamental right of people,” Robert Kirnág, the Slovak ambassador to Moldova, said at the meeting in Ialoveni’s business center. “Water will remain a problem in Moldova for many years to come. We’ve identified water, sanitation and waste management as a priority.”

“Water is life; it is critical for people everywhere,” agreed Michal Mlynár, director general for international organizations and development cooperation in Slovakia’s foreign ministry. The Bardar project will “make a difference in the lives of ordinary people in the region.”

IMG_3183The Consiliul Raional of Ialoveni district, of which Bardar is a part, is carrying out the project collaboratively with Moldova’s Regional Development Agency Center (ADR Centru) and the Regional Development Agency Senec-Pezinok in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital.

ADR Centru shares the fourth floor of the Consiliul Raional building in downtown Ialoveni. I work there myself and know people at both organizations. It’s great to see them collaborating to benefit the village where I had my training. At Friday’s meeting, I sat with my friend Mihail Tonu, Bardar’s vice mayor.

The project seeks not only to provide clean water for Bardar but also to raise awareness among public authorities and the public about the importance of water system management and quality drinking water.

Anatolie Dimitriu, president of the Consiliul Raional, called Friday “a very special day,” noting how the project will benefit Bardar and accelerate the process of providing clean drinking water throughout the district. The project is the first phase of a broader plan to distribute clean water more widely.

Eduard Ungureanu, from Moldova’s national ministry of regional development and construction, called the collaboration “historic,” one that ADR Centru Director Viorel Jardan predicted “won’t be the last” for Ialoveni district or Moldova.

Moldovan officials thanked the Slovak Republic for its assistance and expressed enthusiasm for the new water project.

Two development specialists from Slovakia, Katarína Manczalová and Eva Balažovičová, also spoke at the meeting, emphasizing the importance not only of the tangible benefits but also of the trust and relationships being established. Following the kickoff ceremony and a traditional Moldovan lunch, they and others remained for technical discussions with their Moldovan counterparts.

Many buildings in Bardar already have running water through individual or neighborhood systems, supplemented by the wells, but the water from the new system will be safer and more reliable. In a very tangible way, it will improve people’s lives.

Bardar will still have its wells, of course, many of them adorned with crosses and religious iconography. Their beauty will remain a rich part of this region’s landscape and cultural heritage even as their threat to the public health subsides.

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Making Music

For a hard rock trio, you need a guitar, a bass and drums. For a string quartet: two violins, a viola and a cello. But for traditional music here in Moldova, get an accordion, a cobza, a nai and a tobă, as well as some people with great voices. You know what an accordion is. A cobza is a Moldovan lute, with eight strings. A nai is a pan flute, similar to those played in Bolivia. A tobă is a traditional drum.

The musicians you see here play these instruments. They come from Constești, the village where Champa lived during her pre-service training. The lead singer, shown in the larger photo, is Tudor Grigoriţă, a colleague and friend of mine at the Consiliul Raional in Ialoveni. He organizes cultural activities for the entire county, or raion, of which Costești is a part. I usually see him wearing a suit, so it’s fun to watch him perform. That’s him in the video interacting with the nai, or flute, player, who is the music teacher in Costești.

Costești is near Ialoveni, where Champa and I live now. On Saturday, we traveled there to visit Champa’s host family and to meet Mary Pendleton, the first American ambassador to Moldova, from 1992-1995, after Moldova gained its independence from the former Soviet Union.


We expected an informal gathering where Amb. Pendleton, now retired, would share some memories. Since she was a Peace Corps volunteer herself in Tunisia earlier in her career, she also wanted to meet some current volunteers. The mayor of Costești, Natalia Petrea, surprised us with a much grander event — a delicious meal at a beautiful local resort, with entertainment provided by this reknown local musical group. That’s the mayor, or primara, in the purple dress, next to the former ambassador, in pink.

Moldova, which shares many of its musical traditions with Romania, has other instruments, too, such as the bucium (a long alphorn), the kaval (an end-blown flute) and the cimbalom (a kind of dulcimer). But as you can see and hear for yourself, the ones shown here are quite enough to produce beautiful music together.

The Big Box of Books


These kids have a good reason to look so happy. On Monday afternoon, they were among the first students at Champa’s school to enjoy a big box of English-language books that just arrived.

img_2785The two older students in the second photo enjoyed the books, too. The box included everything from illustrated children’s books to short story collections.

img_2781The school got them all for free. Champa requested them from Darien Book Aid, a nonprofit organization in Connecticut that’s been sending free books to developing communities since 1949. Its volunteers currently ship 20-30 boxes each week, or nearly 20 tons annually, to 190 countries and across the United States.

Maureen Shanley, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia, picked out and packed the books for Champa’s box, along with a personal note. Maureen is also active in Connecticut Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. She and others work with the Darien Book Aid’s Peggy Minnis to send shipments to Peace Corps volunteers worldwide. img_1077They also send free books elsewhere in the developing world, and to libraries, prisons, hospitals and Native American and Appalachian groups in the United States.

Until now, Liceul Teoretic Andrei Vartic in Ialoveni has had only a single small shelf of English books, few of them appealing, as you can see in the photo. Many of the students study English, so it’s no wonder the school librarian, Doamna Zinaida, was excited as she helped Champa open the box and pull out the treasures inside.

I’m so impressed by this organization. They’re doing something simple and meaningful, year after year, to improve people’s lives and make friends for our country.


The video below below has more information about them (also viewable at http://bit.ly/2lnhAyd). They depend on donations to help cover their shipping costs so, if you’re moved by the photos you see here, I encourage you to support them. That’s what we plan to do after we return home. Seeing those kids so happy makes me happy, too.