Tonight, I'm closing out my blog. Not from Moldova, but from Lincoln, Nebraska.
A lot has happened since my last post: a four-day camp in my village put on by several volunteers, a handful of Moldovans and myself; a spectacular week at the Peace Corps' national English-language summer camp; finishing up my work in the school's computer lab; a week-long crash course for the functionaries in my village's primaria
; a trip to Milestii Mici, a wine factory and underground cellar that has won a place in the Guiness Book of World Records for its 55 km of wine storage space; and a visit to Transnistria, the breakaway republic that claims the eastern portion of Moldova. I might return to the blog and fill in these stories when I have the time, but I want to talk about the most important part; saying goodbye.
The first big goodbye was to the cleaning ladies at my school. I invited them to a small masa
at the school one night, and served them a simple fare of salami, bread and ketchup. Of course, I also included a lot of champagne and wine. This handful of women clean the halls and most of the school's classrooms, including my own, every day, and they are rarely appreciated, monetarily or otherwise. Each of them makes less than $40 a month, with which they have to support themselves and their families. I gave them a small present as we parted for the night, and exchanged kisses on the cheeks with each of them. One of them, Doichita, a large, boisterous and hilarious woman in her 40s, picked me up off the ground and kissed me on the lips.
I had decided to leave my village a full week before my flight to America, meaning that Saturday would be my last night in the village before leaving Sunday morning. During the day on Saturday, I visited and said goodbye to some of the teachers with whom I was close, and that night we had a big final masa
at my house, which included my host family, my host dad's relatives in the village, a set of neighbors with whom I was close, and the school's principal and her family. All told, there were 18 of us at a table with barbecue pork, salads, and a load of other foods that I can't remember but ate a lot of.
The next morning, I ate my last meal with my host family, including Maria and Dumitru, my host parents; Diana, my host sister; Sergiu, my host brother; Olesea, Sergiu's wife; and Gabriel, their one-year-old son. Ever since he was born, I had spoken only English with Gabe. He understood some of what I was saying, but he had never said a word of English back. Then, at the last meal with the family, he pointed to the fruit pattern on the tablecloth and said, "apple". I pumped my fist in the air and declared my mission accomplished.
After breakfast, I finished packing and loaded my things into Sergiu's car; I was going to leave most of my bags at his house and stay there a couple nights during the week. Once the car was packed, the seven of us stood in front of the house and passed around a final glass of wine. I teared up just making toasts.
"I've seen you more in the last two years than I've seen my real parents in the last six," I told Maria and Dumitru. "I remember how I felt when I said goodbye to my family in America two years ago. It feels the same now here."
After two glasses of wine, it was time to really say goodbye. Sergiu drove out the gate, and we walked after him. I kissed Maria and Dumitru goodbye, and I'm not ashamed to say that all three of us were openly weeping. I got in the car, and soaked in every detail of what would be my final drive through the village for a long time.
I said lots of goodbyes to other Moldovans not from my village in the following week, but I don't think I need to document each one of them here. Suffice it to say that there were many people with whom I would have liked to spend more time, but my two years had run out, and it was time to move on.
My flight back to America was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 5, and I almost slept through it. I had been out drinking until 2 a.m. with some of the volunteers who had come in 2006 and still had another year of service, and I was sleeping alone in a hotel room. I had set my alarm for 5:15 so that I could wake up, get dressed and walk a mile to the Peace Corps office. There I would meet with Shawn, my friend who was flying home on the same day as me and was going with me to Frankfurt on the first leg of the trip. Our plan was to meet at the office at 6, take showers, and be in a cab to the airport by 6:30. I woke up at 6 when my phone rang. I didn't answer in time, but I saw that I had missed a call from the Peace Corps and realized I was running late. I got dressed, hustled downstairs, and hired a cab to take me to the office. I got there, took a shower, and we got in a cab at 7.
"Hey, 6:30, just like we planned," I said to Shawn.
The flight was uneventful; in fact, Shawn and I both fell asleep almost as soon as we were in the air. Our conversations before and after sleeping centered mostly on the phrase, "We did it."
Our flights to AmericaÑhim to New York, me to AtlantaÑleft from gates that were near one another, so Shawn and I were able to walk around together in the airport, although I had to hustle to make my connection. I took time, however, to notice a drinking fountain.
"Whoa, hold on there, Shawn," I said as we both stopped in our tracks. "I think we've got something here." He laughed as I bent down and used a drinking fountain for the first time in years.
After I finished, we continued walking. "You know, Pete," Shawn said. "When you said, 'I think we've got something here,' there was a girl in front of the water fountain, and she turned around and gave you the dirtiest look." I laughed; obviously, not everyone can share my joy in the simple things.
When we arrived at the final security checkpoint, a Delta representative hurried me through the line because my flight was leaving soon. I said a rushed goodbye to Shawn, and then walked quickly to my gate, where two other passengers and I were running late. One of them was a tall guy with an American flag on the back of his hat, who told the lady at the gate he was coming from Kuwait and responded to everyone with "Sir" or "Ma'am". He and I found out the same bad news at the same time; our flight had been overbooked, and Delta had to put us in first class. We walked down the jet-way with big smiles on our faces, and we briefly introduced ourselves; I was coming back from two years in the Peace Corps in Moldova, and he was coming back from his third eight-month stint in Iraq with the Army's Special Ops.
Minutes later, I was sitting in a seat that I would later find out cost everyone else around me Û5,000. Evidently, another passenger had noticed that something was wrong with the headrest on my chair, but when a mechanic came onboard, I told him he didn't need to delay the flight in order to fix it. "I've been living without running water for the last two years," I said. "I can deal with this."
Soon, I had a gin and tonic, a four-course meal complete with chocolate chip coookies, on-demand audio entertainment (the video portion was broken, which I'm sure I could have complained about and gotten a voucher or something, but I figured I had gotten a lot more than what I'd bargained for) and an electronically-controlled seat that reclined waay back. I thought about how quickly my idea of luxury had changed from a Chisinau restaurant where I spent $15 the night before to sitting in first-class on a trans-Atlantic flight.
When we landed, I started talking with the soldier a little more. "Boy, Uncle Sam sends us to some shit places," I said to him, "but they bring you back in style." He introduced himself as James, and we stuck together as we cleared customs (me without my bags, which I would later find out hadn't transferred in time in Frankfurt), then we headed to the airport T.G.I. Friday's for some beer and burgers.
On a side note, I hadn't noticed in Moldova that the beer bottles there are half a liter, as opposed to the 330 mL bottles in America. When I picked up my first Heineken at the bar in Atlanta, I thought it was some kind of special airport mini-beer.
James and I parted ways after our early dinner, and I made my way to my gate for my flight home to San Jose. I don't remember much about the flight, because I think I slept through most of it. I woke up for the descent, though, and for the final 20 minutes of the flight, I was slapping my thighs and literally bouncing up and down in my seat in anticipation to finally be home.
My parents met me just outside the gate, and we went to the baggage claim area, only to find out that my bags weren't there. No problem. We started to walk toward the car, which my parents told me was parked in a new area because of construction at the airport.
As we walked toward the new parking lot, I saw a taxi stand with about 10 cabs. Cabs are very rare in San Jose, and I expressed my surprise to my parents.
"There are cabs in San Jose? What happened while I was gone?" I joked. Then I saw a white stretch Hummer limo, the ultimate sign of American decadence. "See, that
I expect to see here."
"Why?" my mom asked.
"Because it's so completely ridiculous," I said as we walked next to it and the chauffeur.
"This must be Peter," said the chauffeur.
"Yes it is," my mom said.
I have no idea what sound I made at that moment or what look I had on my face, but I'm sure it was pretty entertaining.
Willy, as the chauffeur introduced himself, snapped a Polaroid of me and my parents, and then opened the door for me. Inside were about 20 of my friends and some of their parents. One of my friends had set up the limo months earlier. I sat, sipped champagne and sang "Easy like Sunday Morning" with my family and friends, all the while in a complete state of disbelief as Willy took us all over to my house. People stayed at the house until nearly midnight, and I stayed up past 1 talking to my parents.
After two years in Moldova, I came home flying first class and riding in a limo. It was the most grandiose, shocking and ridiculous way to transition back to America, but how I got back didn't matter.
I was home.
Labels: America, goodbyes, travel