This past weekend I cleared the final, obscuring hurdle in this protracted journey from my past and familiar life into a great unknown. Starting in February of 2011, I have spent months wondering about the location, people, and organizations that would fill my life and delineate my experience for the twenty-seven months of my Peace Corps service. The journey to Hîncește on Saturday lifted the final veil.
Let me say first that actually making the journey all on my own was a HUGE success for me (you have to celebrate the little stuff, folks!) I took the familiar route into Chisinau, but then had to navigate my way through the piața – the vast outdoor vendor mart where one can obtain anything from chicken feet to pirated DVDs to Chanel knockoffs – and find a rutiera serving a route which I had never taken to get me another six or seven kilometers to the Gara de Sud where I would board a trolley bus to Hîncește. I was able to communicate in Romanian enough to ask someone for directions and to be notified when we reached the station. The trolley bus was parked right in front of the station when I arrived – lucky me.
I arrived in Hîncește and hour and half early, so I decided to try to find the organization that is sponsoring me – Pasarea Albastra – on my own. Mysteriously, I headed in exactly the right direction, even though it was uphill and around a long and sweeping corner, to find myself standing in front of the closed up building – come on, it is Sunday, Yvette – within ten minutes. I then had to call the woman, Ana Vioara, who speaks no English and will be my work partner to explain who and where I was. Within five minutes she joined me on the sidewalk.
She then took me inside and showed me around. It’s a bright and cheerful place, newly built or refurbished (couldn’t quite make out which) and opened for use last December. It certainly rivals any day care center in the US that I’ve visited. She made me tea and brought out a plate of cookies, however, we soon realized that my limited language capabilities were putting a serious damper on the party. While Moldovans are generally much more comfortable with prolonged silences that most Americans, I think Ana was a bit nervous and wanting to make a good impression so it pained me greatly not to be able to converse with her. Periodically she would roll forth a rushing river of sentences from which I could only wishfully pluck a scarce smattering of familiar nouns and strangely conjugated verbs (damn those reflexive pronouns!) All I could truthfully respond was “Îmi pare rau, nu ințeleg.” (Sorry, I don’t understand.) We hadn’t even finished our tea before she suggested we move on to Nina’s house so she could introduce me to my new mama gazda. Really, I think she was looking for reinforcements in her effort to hold up one end of a dialogue.
A surprising characteristic of Moldovan architecture is that one cannot judge the building by its cover. So many of them here are crumbling artifacts of the Soviet era, hulking cement block monsters moldering in weedy lots, framed in scraggly trees and festooned with ribbons of clothesline. It was exactly one of these that Ana led me to, wending her way up the eroded asphalt that served as parking lot, driveway, sidewalk and playground around the back of the building. There, the harsh outlines were softened by a pleasant little hillock of trees and bushes nestled up against the building. Nina has added an “office” to her apartment (in Moldova most people own, rather than rent or lease, their living quarters) so there is an actual separate entrance used by visiting clients giving entry into an extra space attached to her bedroom. And the interior was a refreshing and pleasant contrast to the dismal exterior, markedly upgraded and very modern.
Moldovans seem to take greater pride than most Americans of similar – or even better – economic circumstances in furnishing and decorating their living spaces. All the furniture I’ve run across here is sturdy and finely-upholstered in good fabric; bathrooms and kitchens are tiled in ceramic or stone with substantial bathtubs that one could actually stretch out in; cabinets are crafted with heavy wood, solid hinges and decorative blown glass; the floors are of inlaid wood, individually fitted and highly polished; carpet pile is heavy, soft and brilliantly hued. It is far more tasteful and better made than the plaster board, spray-painted, hastily assembled Target/Ikea breed of furnishings that is slowly encroaching homes across America. And it definitely counters the depressing vistas of their cityscapes.
Nina’s apartment is much smaller than the house in which I am currently residing in Stauceni. And there is no garden – boo hoo. I get the feeling that she is quite consumed with making money, building her client base, and scouting out potential new pyramiding opportunities. Although she was somewhat shy around me, she did manage to haul out the Avon catalogue to peruse with me page by page and posed not-so-subtle questions regarding my Peace Corps income and potential revenue from the husband back in the States. I think she sees me not only as a potential consumer of products, but as a conduit to a whole new gathering of female resources. I could tell she was more than a little disappointed at the obvious absence of cosmetics applied upon my person. This will be a much different relationship, I think, than the one I enjoy with my current mama gazda. We shall see.