Host Mom

Antonina

Good Strawberries Don’t Need Sugar

As the days are winding down (we’re down to single digits of time I have left in Varatic), my host mom and I are getting as many chats in as possible. She likes to come into my room when she needs a break from working to cool down and to talk. Today the topic was cell phones and robots. “Robots can never butcher a goose” she claims, and it’s silly that there are blocks on phones that prevent us from going from one carrier to the next, and one country to the next. I couldn’t agree more.

She then decided we needed to to pick some strawberries, because it is strawberry season! Due to the extreme lack of rain we had this spring, our strawberry selection is rather minimal. She has put 3 different types of strawberries in the ground, though, and really there is only one that has produced strawberries up to this point (and she doesn’t have much hope for the others).


I was getting a nice handful of strawberries going, and, like she did with the cherries, she told me to call it good and leave the rest because they’ll be eve better tomorrow. When I looked back up at her, she didn’t have any strawberries in her hands… because she’d already eaten them all. “They’re better that way” she says. Personally, I prefer less-crunchy strawberries.

After I washed them, I took my first bite. Good strawberries DON’T need sugar. Now I understand why I always loaded my strawberries with sugar growing up… they didn’t have a taste (or much of one).

I have no idea how I’m going to eat food back home without breaking the bank by only buying organic food… but oh my gosh, it tastes so much better!

(Then as I took a nap, she surprised me with a cup of sweet blackberries… which are also incredibly sweet!)

Neighbor

Make Me a Picture

There are many reasons why I joined the Peace Corps, but one of them was because I knew a foreign culture (one foreign to tourists) would offer up a multitude of photo opportunities. What I didn’t know, though, is I would become used for my camera.

Moldova has its own version of Facebook, which we Americans have dubbed “Russian Facebook”. Supposedly it came around about the same time as Facebook, but the masses flocked to it because it was in Russian, not English, so it was easy to understand. But because the majority of people in the USA started using the Internet around the time it was available to the public, we just kind of morphed with the growth… and we know many of the ins and outs… at least this is what I’ve observed. Here, though, it came much later, and only in the last few years has the internet really picked up in the homes, so people don’t really understand what all the Internet can do. So, Odnoklassniki (Russian Facebook) picked up on that and pretty much has made it its own Internet… you can download music, find the weather, use it as a search engine, have conversations (on video, too!), and the highlight: post and rate photographs.

So, as soon as it became known I am a photographer, I became the celebrity of Varatic… everyone wanted me to “make [them] a photo” so they could change their Odnoklassniki profile photo… All. The. Time. This was fine until a point, and I am not a fan of posing my subjects… but that is the Odnoklassniki style. The body is contorted in an unnatural fashion and every image is “beautiful” because the background is blurred. Yes, you read that right: a blurred background makes for a beautiful photograph (of course we are our own worst critic, so the subject has to approve of his/her body contortion and facial expression, too). It was all beginning to make sense: the Modern Moldovans did not want talent or style in photography… they just wanted my “nice camera that makes nice pictures”.

Once I realized this, I also realized the cost to replace the shutter on my camera (which is only guaranteed for 100,000 clicks) and I decided I wanted to save those clicks for, say, my month-long trip in Asia I have in July. I told them my camera was broken (it was) and I’d use their camera if they wanted photos… and soon my photography skills were forgotten, and so was my passion for portrait photography.

Until today.

I heard a little voice outside talking to my host mom, and I went outside to see who it was, because usually the little voices are looking for me but this one was sticking around for awhile. When I went out there I saw this stinking cute little 3 1/2 year old girl. I couldn’t resist: I had to go grab my camera. Much to my excitement, she hardly posed for the camera, and when she did, it was natural. No squatting and putting her hands on her knees and sticking her tushie sideways… no pulling on her hair and holding it… no putting her chin down and looking up at me trying to give me sexy eyes (yes, I have had 7 year-old girls do this). She was ALL her, and all little girl…you should have heard her non-stop laugh!

And now I remember why I love portrait photography so much! Which is just in time, since I will be Stateside in 17 days, and taking many portraits (contact me if you’re interested!)

Picking cherries

Cherry picking

As I looked over at the cherry tree that takes over the grassy area between my house and my host parents’ house, I told my host mom we needed to get a ladder out to reach the ripe cherries at the top of the tree. She told me a ladder isn’t necessary, which shocked me because the branches do not look very sturdy. When she saw my perplexed look she asked me if I’d ever climbed a tree before, and I told her I had, but I thought the branches looked weak. She said the tree could hold me. I took that as a challenge and went inside, put on my shoes, and found a bag where I could put the ripe cherries from the top of the tree.

Then, up I went. I was surprised at just how sturdy the branches were and my determination to get the best cherries of the bunch… until my host mom told me enough was enough and there will still be cherries there tomorrow and, in fact, they’ll be even better tomorrow because they will be riper (more ripe?).

When I got both of my feet back on sturdy ground I asked her if she wanted any of the cherries (because I thought I’d picked enough for both of us). She looked at me, chuckled, then said she has a tree for cherries if she wants them.


My freshly picked cherries then became all mine, and they were the perfect snack for me as I sat outside and read for a couple of hours with my babies sitting next to me.

 

 

Family shadows

The Carpet Salesman

All the time people used to tell me, “Cate, you’d be great in sales. You will talk to anyone and you could sell anything!” Today it still rings true. Instead of sales, though, I’ve focused my shift to marketing or a position that lets me constantly interact with people which will ideally cause an increase in sales for the product or company. Because I do not have any formal educational experience in this field, I have been taking a class online, reading books and blogs, and following people on Twitter to learn as much as I can before I return to the States. Something that this research has taught me is the importance of knowing your audience. Yesterday, for example, I helped one of my students set up a website/blog to showcase his photography. We decided to put his website in English because it is good practice for him and he does hope to reach an international audience (at least with a following). I showed him websites of American photographers I like, and he showed me websites of Moldovan photographers he likes and we used the combination of that to put his site together. While I think having a website with a plain background is better and more professional, he chose to put an image in the back because he’s catering to teenagers: they like that (and now that I think about it, I did, too, as a teenager). I thought about also creating him a Facebook and Twitter page, but that would not do much good here in the village… that’s not where the audience is, so therefore he cannot reach future consumers or clients. Within the first few hours of putting a link on his Odnoklassniki account (aka Russian/Moldovan Facebook), he had 327 hits. Bravo, Marin, Bravo!

Then early this afternoon there was a persistent knocking on the door of my host parent’s house. Finally my host mom answered it and shortly thereafter there were voices just outside my room. I assumed some of my host dad’s friends had come to visit, but nope, it was a carpet salesman. My host dad then called me into the living room to help them make a decision. You see, he was certain he wanted to buy a carpet the size of my room for 4000 lei, which meant he got 2 free smaller carpets in return.

My host mom insisted it was a bad idea because she has a carpet she bought a couple of years ago that they haven’t done anything with up to this point, and it was cheaper and prettier than these carpets. With one yes and one no, it was up to me to make a decision. Because I’m leaving in 6 weeks, I said I was indifferent. The salesman used this information to his advantage and went and pulled out the “last” carpet he had and said he’d trade it with one of the smaller ones (still 6x9ish) and my host dad could give it to me to take home to remember Moldova (my host dad really liked this idea).

The salesman kept saying it is a great deal and today is the last day for people over 50 to receive this 50% discount plus free carpet per retiree in each household, and these are the last carpets and they won’t find cheaper or prettier ones in the city. He tried to say they could save these for their kids or send them to where they live abroad (tailoring to their emotional reaction) but in the end, my host mom kept her ground and refused… and my host dad listened.

Carpet salesmen would not be successful in the States because we do not put carpets on our walls to make our homes beautiful. That’s one of the reasons my host dad wanted the carpet… he said other houses have new, beautiful carpets on their walls and he wanted some too for when guests come to the house. But in Moldova, it is common to find carpets on the walls especially in the homes of the older generation, and even more especially in the villages. The older villagers do not frequent the city, so coming to them is the best way to make a sale… and offering them a one-time discount for their age is also an incentive. While it is not ethical, the salesman can say whatever he wants the prices to be in the city because he knows they will not go to compare (I tried to look on the Internet and I found the website but the catalog is not working at this time so I could not see the price difference). Plus, if one does go to the city, they have to bring this HUGE carpet back with them on the small, crowded, public transportation… which is a pain in the neck (literally). This salesman ¬†was doing a great job in targeting the right location, age, and emotional triggers to get my host family to buy carpets they don’t need, but want. If it wasn’t for my host mom’s stubbornness and my host dad’s respect for her decision, the salesman would have sold 3 (because nothing is free) rugs to my family.

In the end, the salesman asked me to take him with me in America when I go home. Twice. ¬†Unfortunately for him, he did not have a good sales pitch prepared for me to buy into that one. Looks like I’ll be going back to America alone!

Antonina

Candids

There really are not words to go with this photo, at least for me. My host mom colored her hair last week, and here she is relaxing against a tree as the Priest is doing the traditional Day of the Dead blessings. We waited about 4 hours for him to get to us- but he’d been going for 2 additional hours and had about one more to go.

My host mom is awesome. That’s all.