Monday, June 28, 2010

Anecdotes from Settling In

Cultural integration is a lot of fun, occasionally terrifying, and often hilarious.  As promised, sketches of integration:

Move it like it’s 1985
Riding back with my host family from a welcome celebration on my first day at site in Bardar, I had a spontaneous moment of loving Moldova, sparked by nothing other than our vintage Lada.  Yup, straight out of the USSR.  Now, this is no small feet, as the roads here are generally constructed of mud, large potholes, and rocks.  How this antique has held up, I don’t know, but here’s a tip for conserving fuel: turn your car off when going downhill.  Living on the side of a hill has meant that about half my time in the family Lada has just involved coasting.  This fete is aided by my host father Gheorghe’s incredible sense of timing for turning the car back on.  Somewhere in the midst of my spontaneous Lada bliss, the car ran out of gas.  Not losing a beat, Gheorghe got a gas can out of the trunk, started a siphon with his mouth, and added enough fuel to get us back up the hill.  Ladas are pretty normal here; word is still out on how typical the mouth siphon is.

“Err…I’m allergic to raw eggs.  Oh, thank you for opening it for me.”
Being the polite Peace Corps volunteer that I am, I generally say hello to everyone I pass in the village.  On one fateful occasion, this involved a neighbor.  Showering me with Moldovan politeness in return, he naturally asked me in for a glass of wine.  Most families make there own wine, and it is an strong point of pride.  It was the end of the day, and I was done with homework, but out of an American sense of caution, I declined.  So he decided to simply show me around his garden instead.  Which happened to lead us to his cellar.  Which happened to be where his wine is kept.  After drinking his own glass (wine is taken in large shot form here), he filled one up for me.  Now, walking down into the cellar of a stranger is something we would never do in the States in the first place; that’s how 20/20 specials start.  Being an ambassador of sorts, however, made it incredibly hard to say no to such a polite and persistent offer.

We stayed in the cellar a decent while, and eventually, from what I can tell, we established that Moldova and America are great friends.  Not bad, I thought, coming from a guy with Soviet Navy tattoos.  Over the course of our three glasses of wine, he occasionally mentioned a cognac.  This, however, I flatly refused.  This man’s hygienic appearance was…well, you wouldn’t want to share much with him, and I’d already shared a cup.  So I figured I could call it good with the wine, and skip the cognac. 

After another tour of his garden, we found ourselves in the “rusty saw shed” behind the chicken coop with two raw eggs.  And then the cognac (which I had continued to deny) materialized.  He poured himself a shot.  He cracked open his egg.  He added some salt.  He drank his shot.  He drank his egg.  Raw.

He poured another shot.  He handed me the egg.  I said no thank you, and thinking myself clever, said I’m allergic to eggs.  My thought was I could choke down the liquor in order to not offend, and at least dodge the egg.  With what appeared to be clouded understanding, he took my egg, cracked it open, and handed me my shot.  I exhaled, thinking, “whew.  He’ll eat the egg for me…just doesn’t want it to go to waste.”  He then handed me my egg, and a little salt.

Looking down at these foreign objects, potential host to any number of abdominal diseases, confronted me with a moment of truth.  I could walk (or run) away and leave cultural integration and establishment of peace and friendship between two countries in tatters, or, I could try to eat a raw egg.  I opted for the latter.

I’ve since learned enough about the homemade “cognac” to decide I’ll not be drinking it again.  On the upside, there have been no abdominal diseases.  My neighbor smiles and waves every time I pass, and despite his considerable smell of alcohol that day, has even remembered my name.  I, on the other hand, have remembered the Romanian for, “Thank you, but I’m sorry, I have far too much homework.”

These are only the best gems from my first two weeks here, but in general, life outside of the class is one learning experience after another.  So far, I’ve tried to approach these lessons with humility and a sense of humor.  There is definitely something about not speaking the local language that aids this process – without language the ego is definitely checked, and even the simple exchanges become funnier.

Next post, we’ll look at a more normal “day in the life”…

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