So it’s the middle of our second week, six left to go. We have settled in to our daily routines and are wearing pathways between our homes, the school, and the bar. We know who gets to school early and who is perennially late. Our language instructors are possessively proud of us and sang a lovely song for Leslie and Jan’s anniversary today at the break. The bar staff is so inured to our presence that they conducted a water fight over our heads this afternoon. We forgave them (and even felt a bit jolly that they’re not treating us like aliens anymore.) Today it was at least 98 degrees in the shade. They say, “Capi frijți!” My brain is fried.
It hit me softly in the stomach today that just one month ago I was sitting on a balcony at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel sipping a $19 martini and slurping up a plate of exquisitely prepared mussels with my daughter and grandmother, worlds away from my mental and economic circumstances at the moment. (How quickly life can change with jet propelled air travel.) I went to the market today and stood in front of the shelf of instant coffee, debating whether I really wanted to spend 40 lei on a jar. I decided that was too much; it wasn’t until I was halfway home that I realized 40 lei works out to about $4.50. I wasn’t wont to buy instant coffee at home, but I imagine it runs a bit more than that in the States. And it certainly cost a lot less than my over-priced martini.
When we first arrived, the Peace Corps gave us an envelope with 730 lei for our “walking around” expenses. This works out to just over $60. Since our board is provided, we use the money to pay the 6-8 lei roundtrip ticket price on the rutiera (which we take a couple of times a week), load minutes onto our phones, purchase internet time from our host families, and – of course – finance our trips to the bar. Let me tell you, I’m adopting a whole new awareness of money. There are no credit or debit cards to fall back on; Moldova is almost entirely a cash economy. You can’t even get a mortgage for a house. So I must be cognizant of the total sum of money I have available to me on a daily basis, a concept I haven’t had to entertain for at least a decade. I’m anxiously anticipating the advent of my next allowance, which will be deposited, unfortunately, directly into a bank account that will require the use of an ATM card to retrieve. I may be poor for awhile.
These are the sorts of incremental, incidental changes that end up altering my existential experience of being at home in the world. It’s like being slammed back into childhood, suddenly and with no reprieve. I can’t talk right. I can’t communicate my needs or desires or worries or doubts to the person I’m living with. I can’t order complicated food at a restaurant (we have managed to buy a pizza.) I’m somewhat terrified each time I get on the rutiera that I won’t recognize my stop and I’ll end up wandering the back alleys of Chisinau’s less desirable quarters stammering to wary strangers in a patched together dialect of verb infinitives and singular nouns. When I go into a store, all the labels are in Russian. Unless I recognize the packaging I have no clue what I’m buying. And I have no idea if the prices are steep or fair. I bought a credit card from Orange, the mobile phone company, to load minutes on my phone. I couldn’t read any of the directions and fumbled my way through the process relying on luck and tactical guesswork (i.e., randomly punching buttons on my iPhone menu.) The date is twisted here – the day listed prior to the month, the cold water is on the side the hot water should be and time is told military style. I am literally exhausted at the end of the day from translating the world around me and struggling through inane tasks that I could perform with my eyes closed standing on one foot while texting and cooking dinner back home. It’s all we long for at this point – to one day be multi-tasking, competent, self-assured grown-ups again.