Really, Greetings from Moldova
Well before I make my first official post from Moldova, IвЂ™d like to thank my dad for getting everything set between our domain and blogger.com. Dad came home from a week-long bike ride on Sunday, got to the computer, saw my e-mail asking him to fix everything for me, and he hopped to it for a couple hours and called me before he went to sleep (of course, thatвЂ™s 6:45 a.m. for me, but IвЂ™m awake at that time these days anyway). Thanks, Dad.
So the basics of my stay in the town of Costesti during what is called вЂњPre-Service TrainingвЂќ in the Peace Corps. I am with eight other Americans in this town, and I am staying with a wonderful family of four thatвЂ”like other families in the townвЂ”has many relatives throughout the town of 12,000 inhabitants.
Mila, the mother, is 34 and works as a lab assistant in ChisinДѓu, the capital of Moldova, which is about 20 minutes away. The father, Tudor, is a farmer and, as is common in Moldova outside of the major cities, he goes out to the fields for about nine hours a day. Vladimir, the 14-year-old son, is going into the ninth grade in the fall and is a top student in his class and a fantastically creative kid. HeвЂ™ll find any picture in a magazine and draw it in his sketchbook, and he has at least one notebook full of pop song lyrics that he will bust out in a popping voice characteristic of early adolescence. Veronica, the 11-year-old daughter, is entering the sixth grade in September. During the summer, she is mostly staying around the house all day, and I depend on her for my lunch every day, and sometimes my dinner. ItвЂ™s amazing the cooking and cleaning responsibilities heaped upon an 11-year-old girl, but she also has plenty of time to kill with her friends outside and she smiles with little-to-no effort.
There has been so much that has happened in the past three weeks that I cannot begin to tackle it. I think a good point to start with would be to describe the worst day I have had so far, and the most trying semi-conscious moments of my Peace Corps experience so far.
Last Sunday, the 19th, was the first real day of restвЂ”if you include my hustle and bustle to finish my job in Boston, travel down the East Coast, cross the country, say goodbye to everyone I know and consolidate all of my belongings into two checked bags and two carry-onsвЂ”that I had had in about seven weeks. It gave me hours upon hours to finally reflect on what I was doing. Sometimes, thatвЂ™s not a good thing.
The problem with having time to reflect is that any time you think logically about Peace Corps service, you realize that youвЂ™ll be spending over two years in a foreign country where youвЂ™ll have to struggle to learn the language and the culture, where youвЂ™ll be paid dirt for wages, where youвЂ™ll have to bat away flies in the summer time in order to squat over a hole in the ground, where your wood-burning furnace will not possibly heat your house or your school sufficiently in the winter time, and where you will live with few lines of communication to your family and friends and share very few of their creature comforts. And for what? A faint understanding that you are doing something good for the world and yourself, but youвЂ™re not exactly sure why JFK thought this was so damn wonderful.
When you take the long-view of giving up so many American privileges to live in a third-world country, you realize that youвЂ™re actually doing an incredibly stupid thing. The trick is to not let that get you down.
But last Sunday, those facts were just starting to sink in. It didnвЂ™t help that when I visited Levi, a fellow volunteer from the San Francisco Bay Area, I managed to suicidally steer the conversation toward September 11. I believe that any American can officially ruin his day by retelling his own experiences of the terrorist attacks. It is possible to dispassionately talk about terrorism and Afghanistan and Iraq for hours and hours while only becoming mildly perturbed. But once you start describing that awful day from your own point of view, the emotions swell and you might as well just sit in a black room for the rest of the evening. Such was my conversation with Levi, through nobodyвЂ™s fault but my own.
I returned home and fell asleep reading Buzz BissingerвЂ™s instant baseball classic, Three Nights in August. It wasnвЂ™t long before my host father knocked on the door and entered on me as I lay in a completely dazed state. (The Moldovan idea of privacy is a bit different than that of America; a knock is not a polite request for entrance, but instead an announcement that entrance is imminent in the next two seconds.) Tudor was speaking at what was probably a snailвЂ™s pace for him, but was Mach 2 relative to my knowledge of the Romanian language, gesticulating and saying the names of different family members and pointing into the English-Romanian dictionary at the words вЂњcapsunДѓ: strawberry.вЂќ After three minutes of this, and me asking, вЂњCe este Г®ntrebare? What is the question?вЂќ I made up my mind that I was done with the Peace Corps and that I wanted to live in a country where people understood when I was sleeping and they apologized to me in English. After four minutes of the conversation, I realized that Tudor and Mila were inviting me to pick strawberries by the lake with their brothers and sisters, and that everyone was waiting in a van outside the house. I put on jeans and a t-shirt and headed downstairs.
We piled into the van, about 10 adults, three children and a baby carriage, in a feat that I previously thought required some degree of Latino blood. Turns out, packing the car is not a matter of nationality, but rather a natural consequence of not fearing any police reprisal. After we left the main road to get toward the lake, the dirt road quickly turned into a substance I will get to know very intimately over the next two years; glod, mud. The van couldnвЂ™t manage much further, so we all stepped out and walked another quarter-mile in the more solid parts of the mud until we came to the strawberry fields. We picked strawberries, alternated shots of wine (eight-ounce shots of wine are much more prevalent than a calm glass of the stuff), socialized and posed for pictures in front of my camera. We returned to the house, did a minimal amount of preparation to the strawberries, through around one of the baseballs I brought with me from the states, played soccer in an incredibly small and dark area of the side yard, and then went inside for a giant spread of placintДѓ, strawberries and more wine.
Those strawberries and those people were exactly what I needed to turn me around that day, and the effects of that night have still not worn off (well, the wine has, of course). The strength of the extended family here, the sense of community even in a relatively large town of 12,000, is fantastic. The Moldovan kindness and openness to an absolutely bizarre foreigner with ideas of a 22-year-old and the vocabulary of a three-year-old is so heart-warming that I canвЂ™t help but feel welcome. In other tough times, I know that I can look to my neighbors or the relatives of my host family to provide me the companionship and the entertainment I need to get me through.