This morning I viewed a video on Facebook that gave me pause, causing me to appreciate the interconnectedness of my world and the multi-layered, radiating webs of relations we all weave while plodding through our daily lives. Posted by one of my sister’s best friends, it was an acoustic rendition of “Happy Birthday” plucked out on a guitar by a former band mate of one of my dearest high school pals, dedicated to a 50+ man with whom I attended Catholic school some 45 years ago. What makes these connections so mind-bending is that my sister has been dead for almost 29 years; her friend was, for a brief spate of time after my sister’s passing, my sister-in-law; I haven’t seen my high school friend (in person – I’m not counting Skype) in over 15 years nor the man from Catholic school in 25 and they met and became friends independently, years after I attended school with the latter. The band mate and my former sister-in-law lived together back in the 80’s after being introduced by my high school friend. Oh, the miracle of Facebook, that I can continue to witness the progression of all these relationships wherein I once played a role from minor plot development to headlining.
I bother to record this here because of what it brings to bear on my experience of life in Moldova as I creep towards the conclusion (19 weeks and 2 days until it could end – but more on that in a sec) of my Peace Corps service term. It is only now that the threads of disparate relationships are beginning to intertwine, forming stronger links to exciting projects and leading me in the direction of new prospects for actually employing the skills and experience I gathered in twenty years of people management and human resources back in the States. It feels like it has taken so long to become grounded and integrated here, but now that I am I can barely keep pace with the flow of opportunities coming my way.
I remember so clearly, back in training, instructors and second-year PCVs constantly reinforcing how important it would be to successful service to just get out and meet people, make connections, follow-up on introductions, be persistent and pesky and endlessly curious. What Peace Corps does, really, is put you at the starting gate in a particular place in the developing world after giving you a pep talk that lasts ten weeks, then they open the gate, wave you on and turn back to prepare for the next person stepping up to the plate.
In many ways, you truly do have the opportunity, challenge, and risk of creating your own service experience. Some people (actually only a relative few) hit the ground running, blessed with dynamic, English-speaking counterparts and skill sets that match the needs of their communities. Others find their way more hesitantly, having to negotiate language and cultural barriers, misdirected goals, inflated expectations or complete lack of interest. Some of them begin agitating for change, seeking a different partner, or a site move; a limited few ET. Others retreat into themselves, running daily marathons, baking pies and cookies, blowing through Candy Crush and Pet Farm Sagas, and/or consuming all available episodes of House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey and Breaking Bad after reading every award-winning book of the past decade. (I may have trod that particular path myself for more months than I will care to admit….except, of course, for the marathon part.)
But, finally, you meet some people. Or someone you’ve known since arrival introduces you to someone they just met. Or a new group of volunteers arrives a year after you and stirs the pot, forging new relationships that ultimately connect you. I have recently begun working with an amazing young woman who, through two degrees of separation, ended up being introduced to me after connecting with my husband on a volunteer software development project. After 19 months of feeling like all I do in Moldova is teach English, I am beginning to formulate connections that lead to ideas that infuse energy into projects that are infinitely more challenging and interesting than any I would have the opportunity to implement in the States.
Which is the main reason why I will not be leaving, after all, in 19 weeks and 2 days on July 8, the date I drew in the Close of Service lottery held three weekends ago. Ironically, it’s the only lottery I’ve yet ‘won’ in my life; July 8th is the very first day that anyone from the M27 group can leave Moldova. It will be tough, waving goodbye to so many people who have met so much to me for 27 months. But I already have a plan for my final year. It involves significantly more writing, so – hopefully – I will be present here again with more frequency, and a more substantial amount of work devoted to exciting projects that are only just now developing.
It is also involves opening myself up to new people and more varied, far-flung connections. During the protracted process of staging and Pre-Service training Peace Corps Volunteers tend to bond closely with the members of their incoming group, perhaps even more closely with the 10-20 PCVs in their same program. I have formed friendships here that I know will last for the rest of my life. These friendships have sustained and nurtured me through some difficult periods; I have laughed and cried, celebrated and whined, shared meals, beds, and crowded rutieras with these folks. I am lucky to have served with them and they represent a significant portion of what has been good and meaningful in my service thus far. They have been my safety net and, unfortunately in some respects, my cocoon.
Again, my Peace Corps experience is presenting me with another meta-lesson (change leads to insight far more often than insight leads to change.) Even the biggest changes – like ditching one’s routine existence to travel halfway across the world to volunteer in a country one never even knew existed – can be quickly subsumed by the fortifications one immediately, seemingly unconsciously, begins erecting again to shield oneself from further change. I have (re)created a nice life for myself here, complete with English-speaking friends, lots of books, meetings in restaurants, and weekend spa dates.
Now I am preparing myself for a different experience, one filled to a much greater extent with Moldovans. Even as I write this, I am breaking every hour or so to watch another segment of a YouTube video on Moldova. And as I was watching, I suddenly realized that large portions of it were in Romanian, which I was following without a hitch. I feel like I have finally crossed that barrier that separated me from so much that went on around me, everyday. I understand the language, I get the nuances of culture, and I interact with folks on a daily basis who are happy and forward-thinking and excited to have me in their lives. I barter for ingredients in the local piața to prepare traditional dishes like zeamă and borsch that I have come to crave. (And I know where to find cilantro and curry in Chișinau when I must have Mexican or Indian some days.) And I continue to appreciate the convenience of public transportation and not having to pay attention to the road. Despite living on a stipend that is a meager percentage of the salary I made at home, I feel increasingly richer and more secure every day. The web I am weaving is becoming denser, more intricate, and speckled with sparkling multi-cultured circumstances all the time.
Bine ați venit Moldova!