Groans and clacks now ricochet by the lake in the name of progress. Comrat, a town of many ethnicities and varied allegiances, has recently begun constructing a hotel with the financial aid of bosom-friend Turkey. The first Turkish-sponsored project, which halted and stuttered under resistance from pro-Russian factions, was a water purification scheme.1 Comrat’s metal-heavy waters were a late-Soviet era catalyst for health problems, and it wasn’t until 1999 that the program finally got off the ground.2 But the area has since managed support from many donors, and is leveraging well. This April, the town began preparing for the Turkish delegation and the Moldovan diplomats who met to sweep in the future.
I stepped into a hive, minus the keeper’s jacket, and the chirping female hum vibrating low in the high-vaulted space was momentarily overwhelming. I was surrounded by long-skirted blossoms, the falling petals of their scarfed crowns speaking respect to God. The scent of honey would come later, when the women lit their spindly candles; and the calming smoke, cloying smoke, when the pope pendulated his thurible.
It was Little Easter, or the Day of Remembrance. I first learned about the holiday after I attended a church service with my first host mother in my first Moldovan village (you can read about the service in my post Churches and Fainting Americans). I followed her to tour the cemetery afterwards, where she mentioned some holiday where families would gather at small tables next to headstones and share candy.
If there’s anything a Peace Corps Volunteer can relate to, it’s shoving herself into a stuffy, smelly, overcrowded minibus (in Romanian, it’s called a “rutiera,” but down Comrat way we use the Russian term “marshrutka” (маршрутка)) for a bumpy ride with a barnyard atmosphere.
There are times when I think there’s a wisdom to that one conception of telepathy – not the mind-reading, clear as day, but more on the side of premonition. You know, something’s coming. And I imagine the afternoon Danny’s school director announced her request, he had a little inkling bumming around the back of his mind, that sixth sense for potential projects. In this kind of ramshackle, seat-of-your-pants work, you learn to sniff out the blood pretty quick.
“Why the animals? They’ve got the earth and the sky – everything they need!”*
*I’ll toss in a little context to this conversation. I was talking to my host mother about finding a grant to rebuild a monument in one of Comrat’s cemeteries. While explaining that many organizations are looking to fund projects addressing specific issues, such as youth camps, civil society, and animals… she jumped on me with the above comment. Anna very much values history. In her opinion, the legacy of the locals that would be preserved through the restoration of the monuments outweighs the needs of the local strays. And I’ve seen her sneak the wandering mutts scraps from our table.
Two of the most revered sports in Gagauzia (and, from what I’ve heard, all over Moldova) are the close contact sports: wrestling and boxing. Not too long ago, I was invited to attend a boxing tournament in Cadir Lunga, another Gagauz village about 30 minutes from my home. And when I talk boxing, I don’t just mean the sport – the philosophy amongst the Comrat practitioners is that this brand is a martial art. I hitched a ride with my dear French friend, a visiting EVS volunteer and two trainers (whose boys took to the ring that day) from Comrat. Continue reading “Get Your Sports Fix”