Last weekend, we took up an invitation from our new friends Chris and Nancy Russell to visit their home in Comrat, a small city in Gagauzia, which is an "autonomous region" in Southern Moldova (this Wikipedia page makes for a brief but fascinating read).
Gaugazia had some major draws for us (particularly Justin):
1. The Gauguz people speak the Gagauz language, which is Turkic-based and isn't too far from Azerbaijani.
2. The majority of the people speak in Russian most of the time. We heard no Romanian on the streets, in church, or in shops.
3. It wasn't Chisinau. This was our first real excursion to a different city, so we got to see how other people live.
The Russells were more than gracious hosts. Nancy cooked unbelievably large meals for us, the likes we haven't seen in a very long time. Their kids are away at boarding school in Germany, and in the States, so their house was unusually quiet and we hope we kept them company.
Some pics:Justin trying to pose like a local would. In a park built in memory of historic Gagauz people.
The main Orthodox church in town.
V.I. Lenin, eagerly protecting the main street that is still named after him. Gagauzia was pretty unhappy when the USSR broke up.
The highlight of the weekend for me (Justin) when Chris took me to a Baptist church in Comrat on Sunday. The elders greeted me warmly and promptly invited me to preach ("No, thanks!"). When they found out I spoke Azerbaijani, one of them engaged in conversation. He would tell me something in Gagauz, then when I didn't understand he would say again in Turkish, and then I would answer in an Azeri/Turkish blend. If we couldn't figure it out, we'd just do it in Russian.
They asked me to speak to the church about my time in Azerbaijan, so I did so briefly in Russian, with Chris providing both moral and technical support. Then, one of the older ladies on the front row asked me to speak about my family in Azerbaijani. I did so, but quickly got my languages confused. I said "Menim bashim chashib!" which is Azeri for "My head is confused!" and they all laughed, and I was glad that it translated well.
The church was really well-organized for a small (sort-of-rural-type) church. They had a Sunday school hour with a printed lesson plan and bulletin, complete with memory verse (quoted readily by many in the audience). Sunday School for the kids, and a youth choir. About 50 people altogether in the church, I'd guess.
That whole service was probably the most fun I've had here. That's the first time I've been asked to speak in Russian in front of a large group of people. Singing a hymn in Gauguz and busting out my Azeri was a huge blast, as it's been a long time since I've spoken it.
Maybe more importantly, I got to briefly mention to the church about my job with Invest-Credit. A man with a medium-sized business came up to me after the service to ask about obtaining a loan. Chris told me that he's an honest businessman who always pays his taxes and understands how harmful the Church's dependency on Western funds is (ie: the perfect client). The man's business also employs at least one local pastor.
I had one of my co-workers call him on Monday, and it looks like he needs a larger loan than Invest-Credit has loans to give. However, investigating this opportunity further and seeing if we might raise support for it with BPN looks like it might be a doable project. More on that in the future.
On Monday morning, we were expecting our first bus experience to get home to Chisinau. We missed our intended bus, but luckily a guy with a large station wagon asked if we wanted to go with him for just 5 more lei a person. A girl about our age was also standing with us and said "I'll go if you're going," so we and a couple others hopped in the taxi and got a comfortable and fast ride back home. That was like the only money we spent the entire weekend, so we felt really blessed.
So, I hope to get back to Gagauzia sometime. I've often thought that one of the requirements for wherever we live long-term is that it has to be both Russian and Turkic speaking (like many of the post-Soviet republics). I guess we can add Comrat to that list of places where we'd consider living!