At this point in the Peace Corps adventure, the two things predominant in the trainee’s daily experience are language classes and his or her host family interactions. Just because I find my host mom (mama mea gazda) to be one of the more interesting people I’ve met so far, let me tell you a little more about her.
Nina, as far as I can tell, is not a typical Moldovan woman. She is sixty-one, but could easily pass for being in her late-forties or very early fifties. She spends most of her day in her garden or tending a neighbor’s who is currently in Germany. As such, she is quite strong and fit – no flabby triceps or sagging chest on her. She has not worn make-up in my presence, though I do see a few sticks of eyeliner, one lipstick, and a tube of mascara in her bathroom (I spy.) No foundation – she doesn’t need it.
On several occasions she has tried, rather animatedly, to communicate her former profession, which I finally figured out was as an administrator of a medical aesthetic clinic. Maybe women came there for facials and dietary consultations? She certainly seems to know a lot about massage, acupressure, nutrition and the like. (In the food department, I feel incredibly fortunate to have been placed with Nina. Many of the other trainees are eating Westernized, store-bought food or are fed quite a bit of meat, dairy products, bread, and white rice along with their vegetables. While I do get a very thin chicken breast most every day and she does keep a loaf of brown bread on the table, the majority of our meals have been composed of herbs and vegetables from the garden and/or whole grains like buckwheat or oatmeal.)
In the host family survey I completed for the Peace Corps prior to coming to Moldova, I indicated that I had been juicing for the past few months and had lost some weight. I told them that I was worried about gaining it back and would really like to be placed with a family that avoided fatty or processed foods. Well, I think this may have been conveyed to Nina as she seems to have taken on a personal mission to transform me before I leave her house.
The other night as I was struggling to conjugate the horrid verb “to have,” she appeared in my room wrapped in a towel with a bowlful of mashed up zmeură (raspberries) and motioned for me to follow her into the bathroom. With an unintelligible (for me) stream of Limba Română as our soundtrack, she had me remove my shirt (I kept the bra on) and proceeded to slather us both with the raspberry/cream/honey/olive oil concoction. With our arms, hands, necks, chests, and faces covered in the pink slop, we stood in the bathroom, arms in the air, and I listened to her chatter away at me in words I dearly hope to understand soon. This was quite a comical experience to have with someone I only met a week ago and with whom I can barely communicate. This was another, very tactical briefing in cross cultural exchange. The thought of my mother conducting this exercise with some UCI exchange student from China or Korea about makes my head explode.
After we rinsed, we returned to me room where Nina very enthusiastically demonstrated for me her impressive limberness and agility. She performed a series of calisthenics and pilates-type stretches that I’m quite sure would have challenged my 26 year old daughter. Needless to say, I demurred from joining her in this activity. She seems determined, however, to enlist me in some form of exercise soon. I’m not quite sure where she gets the stamina, given her workload in the garden, kitchen, and around the house. Luckily for me (and this has been a very mixed blessing, believe me) it has apparently been too hot for her to challenge me to another “gymnastica” duel. It’s supposed to be in the high 90’s this week, so for now I’ve been granted a reprieve…