The Fourth (or Second) of July
When is the Fourth of July not the Fourth of July? When the U.S. Embassy in Moldova invites you to celebrate in Chisinau on the Second. All of us trainees (minus a couple for medical reasons) and many other Americans, including Peace Corps Volunteers, a small amount of military personnel, embassy workers and their families, and missionaries, made it to Chisinau's Botanical Gardens for a day-long barbecue.
The Botanical Gardens are absolutely beautiful, although the stench of the bathrooms can strike from up to 30 feet away. The gardens house a small zoo with goats, a donkey, peacocks (the sound of which reminded me of the evening hours back home in California), deer and two ostriches. Ostriches are big and mean, and I agree with Jess A. that they are the closest thing the modern world has to a velociraptor.
The embassy did a minimal but solid job, providing an open field, barbecue pits, a pleasant mix of American music and a few security guards thrown in, too. It was a loose framework that allowed me to eat a hamburger, drink a few beers, smoke half a cigar, and play wiffle-ball, ultimate frisbee and baseball.
Throwing a baseball has transformed itself into an almost Zen-like centering exercise for me while in this country. Among the trainees, we have three right-handed gloves and one lefty. I bring my glove any place where more than the nine Costesti trainees will be. It's something familiar and American, and something that combines the right amounts of concentration on the task at hand and socializing with the person you're throwing with. At the Fourth of July party, for example, I noticed and gestured toward a stranger with a baseball glove. Without speaking for the first ten minutes, we never got closer to one another than 60 feet. We communicated with the simplest of baseball hand signals: pointing in the sky for a pop-up, tapping ourselves apologetically on the chest after an errant throw and a nod and a smile after a particularly nice catch. Other than that, complete silence. It could have gone on for hours, but I was thirsty for a beer, so I hustled over for a conference, introduced myself, found out that my throwing partner was a missionary living in Chisinau, and then excused myself for a drink.
After a second beer and a few innings pitched of wiffle-ball, I found myself talking with a member of the North Carolina National Guard. He was a sturdy and confident man, aged somewhere in his early-to-mid 30s. He had had several assignments in Moldova, and had recently finished the first month of his current assignment. The U.S. has an interest in having friendly relations with the Moldovan military, and this soldier was doing his part.
"So are y'all doing training exercises with them?" I said, simultaneously throwing in a Southern tinge to my voice and shooting the majority of my military jargon in the first load.
"Well, training's a bit of a dirty word with us," the soldier said. "We call if familiarization. We show them how we do it, and then say, 'Now you have to forget this.'"
For his part, this soldier's exchange was not purely military. He was joined by a slightly-younger lady named Rodica, who was only the first of several military menРҐs Moldovan girlfriends I met throughout the day. I believe that the nine-year-old American-looking boy named Mihai with whom I played wiffle-ball was the product of such a match, and he seemed like a good kid, so I can find no objection to this portion of the cultural exchange.
Speaking of the culture, I did something this weekend that I donРҐt believe I ever would have done in America. I was rather drunk on Saturday night and had been walked home by fellow trainees Evan and Krista. Evan let me borrow his flashlight, and I headed directly to the outhouse in the back. As I stood over the hole and did what I needed to do, I cradled the flashlight between my turned neck and right shoulder. As I was preparing to turn and leave, the outhouse got dark, the load on my shoulder felt lighter, and my eye was drawn to a faint light coming from below the outhouse floor. It took me several seconds to realize that Evan's flashlight was gone and it wasn't coming back. The next morning, I went to the outhouse with latex gloves in my pocket, but I couldn't make visual contact with the flashlight, so I decided it was better not to try. My host family knows that I need to buy Evan a new flashlight in Chisinau on Wednesday, but when they asked me where I lost it, I simply replied, "Nu stiu. Sunt idiot." I don't know. I'm an idiot.