Adventure in Moldova - This is How You Do It

I should have gotten the hint by the way the school in Chisinau cleaned up their entry way.  As they painted their awning and grill work over the center of my mural, paint splattered everywhere.  It could all be repaired, and to be honest, the place really looked a whole lot better.  But, what I focused on were the toxic fumes that made me feel sick.  It was a long two day process.  And when their painting was completed, there was touch up work on the cement along the front of the building.

This school was in for some kind of a celebration!

Faculty and administration weren’t dressed to the nines. It was way past that. And, me? I showed up in my U.S. Embassy / Phillip Martin T-shirt.  Fortunately, one of the other officers from the Public Affairs office had the same idea as me.

I was informed that the unprecedented was about the happen.  Both the U.S. Ambassador, James Pettit, and the Deputy Chief of Mission (number 2 at the embassy) Julie Stufft planned to attend the dedication.  The two of them together at dedications just never happened.  But, the word was out at the embassy that something very neat had happened.  Of course, since I was on television three times during week, the word should have been out.  While I was impressed and delighted, my friends in the Public Affairs Office were more shocked.

The press was there too.  I had television interviews number four and five as well as a radio interview with Radio Moldova.  I certainly wasn’t in Ohio with this kind of attention.

The director of the school knew how to pull off an event.  It started with two children, a boy and a girl, in traditional Moldovan costume.  And, they were adorable.  They presented the ambassador, all other visiting officials and me with a very decorative piece of bread and salt.  It was the equivalent of Liberian kola nuts, hot crushed peppers, and chickens.

I’d never heard of the bread and salt ceremony before.  The gifts were a symbol of friendship and hospitality.  It was what you did for honored guests in a host of countries I’d visited, but apparently wasn’t really welcomed.  Perhaps I should be offended by my experiences in Croatia, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Finland, and Romania?  For sure, I’m going to be much more aware if I ever paint murals in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine.

Upper Left Photo: US Embassy Moldova

So what happened?  Fortunately, I followed the ambassador so I had an example to follow.  The bread was a circular loaf, ornately decorated with bread dough flowers.  Inside the circle was a little bowl of salt.  Each honored guest pulled off a chunk of bread, dipped it in the salt, and tasted the traditional welcome of Moldova.

There were speeches by each of the honorees. I was impressed how the ambassador rattled off Romanian.  He and the Deputy Chief of Mission both translated some of the speeches for me.  Since I was one of the honorees, I had to speak.  And, it was totally off the cuff without any preparation.  I said that I had such a wonderful experience in Moldova and a lot of it was due to the terrific young helpers also attending this celebration.  Each time that anyone passes this mural, I want them to remember it was a community project.  The artist and art were not as important as the community experience.  Then, I said that the director tried really hard to teach me Romanian.  It wasn’t very successful.  I learned how to say placinta (a local dish), da (yes), nu (no), and multumesc (thank you).  The ambassador told me I did great and I kind of beamed inside.

The kids from the school were prepared to honor us.  There were songs, original poems, letters of appreciation, certificates, flowers (three bouquets), and gifts.  It was more than I could carry!  The most special was a home-made clay mug made by one of the students.  It's a treasure.

I wanted to seriously stay and greet each of my painters, but that was not how you followed protocol when the Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission were also visiting.  There were treats for all inside the school and I was ushered upstairs for my place next to the ambassador.  Seriously, this was the first time an ambassador ever knew my name, and he made me feel so welcomed.  I even got to share a little of my experience in Liberia.

When the munchies and schmoozing were done, I went outside to find that most of my painters stayed around to say good-bye.  I was so pleased that my kids waited.  Each had to say good-bye, multiple times, and get a hug.  It was certainly a “pinch me experience”.  And, everyone from the ambassador on down said that they looked forward to my next murals in Moldova.  I’m certainly ready to eat placinta, learn a few more words in Romanian, and paint another masterpiece with my new friends.