Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Prima Sună: a Prima Moldovan Day

Today was September 1st, and in Moldova, that means Prima Sună – First Bell, the first day of school.  Every once in a while there is a moment here that seems larger then Moldova, touching on some emotion deeper than whatever singular experience triggers it; an emotion connected with grander ideals or distant memories.

If swearing in was the first of these moments, First Bell was most certainly the second.  The first day of school is an experience that transcends cultures – the excitement that hangs in the air, accentuated by the crisp smell of an early fall morning, as students dawn their best clothes along with their emotions.

Having always been a bit nerdy, I always loved the first day of school.  Even in college I was one of the rare ones who never missed Opening Convocation.  But today, for the first time in a long time, I was nervous again, as if transported back to Washington Elementary.  After all, this year, for the first time, I was going to school not as a student, but as a teacher, cultural ambassador, and in a new language to boot, rendering me some kind of odd teacher-foreign exchange student hybrid.

First Bell starts with a ceremony. 
There’s music and speeches by various VIPs – the director, the mayor, an official from the Raion ministry, and yours truly – who stand on the steps facing the rows of students arranged by class to face a long central aisle.  The new teachers also graced the stairs, and after the three of us were introduced, presented with flowers, and an awesome sparkly golden daily planner that not even the most fabulously gay man would sport in the U.S., it was my chance to say a few words and butcher the beautiful Romanian language in the spirit of cultural exchange.  Being shameless, I also plugged my health club, seizing upon my moment with the microphone and the fifteen minutes of intrigue that still surrounds me. 

After our speeches, the new class was presented in one of the cutest ceremonies ever.  They walked down the balloon festooned aisle, and then proceeded to recite First Bell poems and sing songs, forgetting a good half of each an account of their nerves.  When six year olds forget poems, everybody coos.  If only it were the same for 24 year old volunteers…

I think the most awesomely Moldovan thing about this ceremony was the giant white bows smothering each girl’s hair, complementing their various takes on the ubiquitous black and white ensemble.  The guys were a bit more staid in the standard suit – certainly very European in dressing up, true, but the suit is a bit more blasé than the full on Christmas tree trimmings perched upon the girls’ heads.  Not all of them were outrageous, the generally accepted proportion seemed to be two bows that when taken together approximated the size of the child’s head.

The ceremony was followed by another rite one wouldn’t find in the States – champagne in the Director’s office (VIPs only – most teachers had to attend to their homeroom classes).  This was followed by work with my partners, a teachers’ meeting, and finally a masa (celebratory meal) which included a good deal more wine, beer, and something else a little stronger.

If the teachers were stoic in the midst of the children’s giddiness at the ceremony, they sure let it all out at the party once they sent the students on their way.  Meetings and large gatherings tend to exhaust me on account of the amount of linguistic effort the events require – those who work with me regularly know to talk more slowly and minimize the slurred local dialect, and we tend not to work more than an hour or two at a go.  But all bets are off at the ceremonies and parties, and between the shouting and extra attention an American begets, a seven hour day like today feels much like running a linguistic marathon.  Throw in a bit of booze, and, by the time I finally crawled home this afternoon, it took a long nap to recuperate.

Meanwhile, the most popular topic of conversation surrounding my work here continues to be my impending marriage to a nice Moldovan woman.

Having had enough public excitement today, this evening I sought the refuge of my host mother Ana’s kitchen, where I taught her how to make banana bread.  It was my first time doing self-directed cooking since coming here, and it felt good.  This led to another Moldovan moment today, when I found myself grinding cloves with an honest-to-god mortar and pestle.  Yup, apothecary style.

The banana bread went over so-so – my host mom isn’t big on sweet desserts, but Grigorii (my host dad) loved it.  A couple other visitors had it, but I couldn’t really tell if they liked it or were just being polite.  Variety is a rare spice here in Moldova.

Finally, not content merely to cook, I engaged in a revolutionary act: washing the dishes.  This is another first for me here in Moldova, and it’s taken a solid three months to work my way up to it.  Men, in Moldova, might cook.  Sometimes.  And only the odd modern and progressive ones like Grigorii.  But never would they do dishes.  It’s as if they’re deathly allergic to detergents.  I’ve seen a man cook when his wife is away, but the dishes stay on the counter until her return.

All in all, quite the day.  After this, teaching will seem like a rest.


Ashley James said...


Good luck teaching in Carahasani! The village is beautiful this time of year. Also enjoy the fruits of the harvest.

I see vinul nou in your future.

Fii sanatos!


Kale' said...

this blog is amazing, well written and very entertaining. Man, I'm in the same country as you are, and I still felt like I entered a different world when i read it. Keep up the blogging!