Life in Wintertime

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The hill leading up. Before they slide back down…

So it’s winter here.  Not the fake winter we pretend to have in Southern California, decorating our mall windows with plastic snowflakes and our Escalades with reindeer antlers  while maybe throwing on a windbreaker to travel from car into supermarket – but real winter, where treacherous roads winding through countryside have never seen a snowplow and cars that skid off the road have no tow trucks to help them dig out.  Men laboriously shovel dirt from the beds of slowly moving trucks in a stalwart attempt to provide some measure of traction on hills and curves.  Car wheels skid uselessly at the top of the hill on my street before slowly sliding down to the bottom again.  Other cars sit idle and useless under mounds of snow in the hillier neighborhoods of Hîncești; their owners will not be able to use them until spring when the killer black ice fades away.

Yesterday some of the employees of the center where I work made a picnic lunch and we piled into the all-wheel drive van with the consultant visiting from Germany to show him the only “tourist” attractions Moldova has: two of some fifty Orthodox monasteries that sit in relative isolation throughout the country.  My partner had checked the weather forecast which indicated cloudy skies but no snow, so I donned four layers of clothing and the steely determination that being California born and raised was not going to prevent me from avoiding excursions for a third of the time I am living in Moldova.

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Me, outfitted, sweating

Now of course, those of you who know that I have “been going through the change” for the past two years or so must appreciate what wearing four layers of clothing means for me.  It means that I can only apply the top three layers minutes before leaving the apartment or I will die from heat prostration and suffocation.  It means time indoors is spent weighing the benefits of disrobing with the hassle of having to put everything back on again later.  It means long car rides invariably result in me sweating profusely within my tights/long underwear/ body shirt/tee shirt/sweatshirt/wool scarf/down parka outfit while my feet and fingers slowly go numb and the portion of my face that is exposed feels as if needles are dancing across it.  There is no happy medium here.  The only place I am reasonably comfortable is at home.  Consequently, I am getting more and more loathe to leave. This is not a good sign.

So I made myself go on this jaunt to Căpriana and Hincu.  And once in the van and on the Imageroad, I actually enjoyed watching the scenery go by.  All the trees are bearing heavy loads of snow; their gnarled and twisted branches seemed to reach out in supplication as I passed by behind my frosted pane of glass.  The sky was a muted mix of shadowy pastels overlayed with a sheen of silver.  Most of the dwellings we past were trailing ribbons of smoke from their chimneys, attesting to the warmth of families and friends huddled inside.  My companions were in high spirits, telling jokes and commiserating over children and husbands and housework and life in the way that any group of women the world over is wont to do.Image

In between the two monasteries, we pulled over to the side of the road and ate our picnic in the van, a healthy masa of baked chicken, sarmales, meat patties on bread, and the unbiquitous sliced tomatoes.  Someone had brought a small thermos of chai that was still piping hot; I don’t know if it was better to hold or sip, but both proved satisfying.  And of course bags of sweet treats were passed around at the end.

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This is the “summer” chapel. They have a winter one also.

As in so many developing countries, the monasteries proved to be much grander and better constructed than the surrounding villages.  It was actually uncomfortably warm inside some of the buildings (me packed inside all my layers with a menopausal thermostat notwithstanding.) There were icons, blessed bottles of water, candles, incense, and small bottles of perfume labeled „Jerusalem” for sale, on which my companions did not stint.  One of the ladies even made me a gift of a small portrait of three saints. All purchases were laboriously recorded by pen in triplicate; this took approximately five to ten minutes per person for each sale while the German and I stood around examining the intricacies of the painted walls.  Of course, days are mere blips in the annals of these monasteries.  And we didn’t see any other visitors in either place.  What do they have but time?

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No expense spared
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The horses get jackets
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The dogs don’t. This one followed me until I climbed back in the van because I shared a bone left over from lunch.

As I write today, snow is falling relentlessly outside.  A fellow volunteer who had spent the weekend with me – traveling for four and half hours in order to sit in her pajamas watching movies and trolling the internet with someone else rather than spending yet another day in her bedroom alone in her isolated village – departed the warmth of my apartment at 11am, only to get to Chișinău an hour and half later and discover that the buses aren’t running up to her village: too much snow and ice.   She called me, dejected, facing a 20 minute walk down the side of a highway back to Peace Corps office to try to find a place to stay tonight.  And maybe tomorrow.  The forecast says snow all the way to Wednesday.

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No handicap ramps or easy access in Moldova

Across and just down the street to the right, there is always a group of people waiting to catch a ride out of town.  They huddle in small groups like articulated penguins, snow piling like heaps of scattered salt on their heads, shoulder, shoes.  Sometimes they wait for an hour or more.  I stand at my window and watch them, asking myself why the city doesn’t think to construct a simple shelter?  Even a roof on four posts that would keep the snow and sleet from steadily burying people where they stand?  How do Molodovans keep such stoic patience, never expecting more for themselves?  I toy with the idea of going out and asking them: don’t you think you deserve better than this?  rallying the troops, inciting a movement, marching on the raoin council with frost laden posters, clutching candle stubs to warm our hands.

But then the thought of donning all those layers is just too overwhelming and I return to my desk to compose my useless thoughts about their plight.  Honestly, Peace Corps is tough in ways you just never imagine.

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7 thoughts on “Life in Wintertime

  1. I am skidding around on streets in Denmark right now too. However, much more well organized – and much more “Western”. Yet here too Mother Nature gets her way.. Yesterday as we braved the cross-country drive to my mom’s there were busses in the ditches, and cars that seemed to just have flown off the road to scatter along the side of the road…. Technology and Western efficiency tends to come up short against the awesome power of nature. Maybe getting out the horses and the sleighs might be the way to go through Winter? Certainly a romantic notion….

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    1. People actually use them here in the villages – they call them crutzas, though its a Russian word so I’m not spelling it correctly. But it does sound like a much safer, saner way to travel in this weather!

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  2. Beautiful buildings! When was the “no expenses spared” building constructed? I’m curious about that time in the history of Moldova. This reminds me of all the gold on altars in some of the churches I’ve visited in Mexico. Amazing wealth of gold in the church of a village where most people live very simply, if not in poverty.

    Having spent many years in Minnesota, I read your post with body memories stirring. I remember the conundrum I would face: the pros and cons of comfort during travel before arriving at my destination with comfort after, and would simplify accordingly. But I had a car to minimize the impact of the cold en route – a car that tended to stay on the plowed and sanded road. Your situation is very different than that. Fortunately, I had moved to Oregon by the time menopause happened, where the lack of central heating was a big help in this regard. And I thought I’d left the snow and cold forever . . .

    Your picnic in the midst of all this is wonderful, both in terms of its juxtaposition with the cold, the descriptions of the terrain you rode through, the visiting of the monasteries, and in the excellence of this food as picnic fare. What a lovely excursion!

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  3. Hello Yvette: I’m a new fan of your blog, and the only one I’m following! Love your writing and storytelling so much that you left me no choice but to be updated on all your adventures. I am also a California native, female, and 53 years young. Unemployed and on the verge of a reinvention, I find your story very inspiring. I admire your journey as you are one brave woman (i.e., hydroplaning on black ice, are you kidding me?). Hang in there as spring is right around the corner, and you will be thankful to have experienced living through 4 distinct seasons, although we both know California has 4 seasons as well. Keep cool and be safe.–jj

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  4. hey. beautiful as usual….always artfully composed…i have stayed home in Hincesti and so far have had a much better vacation that I thought…the orphanage 2 days,..drawing the orphanage students…audio books by the hours..hot peppered wine at another teacher’s home….and most of all, some of the most beautiful, wintery days that we have had…in a moment i don my layers and head out to the lake for a walk…a huge surprise was that some brave soul wrote “maia, te ubiesc” in a series of footprints on the lake’s superficial ‘skin’….everyone says Hi…rodica and svetlana and all who are enjoying Ho-Ho-Ho in Hincesti!
    p

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    1. Good to hear from you Patty. I have so much to tell about this amazing land, but it will have to wait until i return. We have bumped into three different groups of PCVs here; Inguess this is one of the fave destinations for the Peace Corps.

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