Mirroring Moldova

The crumbling, hazardous steps leading to a public square

Does Moldova make you sadder?  Does just being here cause one’s happiness index to plummet beyond rescue?  Bruce Hood would answer in the affirmative.  I am listening to his book The Self Illusion as I walk to and from work each day and it is giving me a somewhat undesirable perspective on how I may be chipping away at what I had previously thought to be my natural state of joy.

In line with Hume’s “bundle theory,” Hood states that decades of neurological research lends proof to the theory that the “me” inside my head is an ongoing,  illusory narrative concocted by the brain to establish a necessary focal point for the reception and organization of stimuli into coherent patterns for reciprocal behavior.  He describes an elegant metaphor of the “self” as the external mirroring of one’s cumulative inner experience of the world and the other “selves” we encounter, giving an oddly somatic testimony to the notion that ‘we are all one.’  To the degree that we have an impact on the people who are in direct relationship with us, or who benefit from our work, or buy our products, or listen to our songs, or live in our buildings, or abide by our laws, or respond to our ads, or slip on our tossed banana peel – etc., etc., etc., – then we are affecting and thereby shaping the formulation of other “selves” in our world, contributing to the reflection that we receive from them that thereby shapes us in turn.  Whew.  (Of course, reading the book will give you a much deeper appreciation of his argument.)

“The line between out there and in here is not as sharply defined as we think.”                                                Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss

 So what does this have to do with me and Moldova?  Well, here’s the thing.  A Dutch professor named Ruut Veenhoven , along with his colleagues at the World Database of Happiness (WDH,) has been collecting data for years on what makes us happy, what does not, and – interestingly – which nations are the happiest.  Not surprisingly, Moldova consistently scores near the very bottom of the index.  Lower, even, then some African countries that definitely have a lot more reasons to bitch.

The effects of decades of harsh winters
The effects of decades of harsh winters

In the Geography of Bliss, a book about his travels through some of the happiest countries in the WDH and one – Moldova – that decidedly is not, Weiner proffers a theory that Moldovans are more unhappy because they are in Europe’s backyard and inevitably compare themselves with countries like France, Italy, and Germany, where so many of their working adults flee to make money.  However, there is also the on-going legacy of the Soviet system, which has warped the very fabric of the nation.  And there is also the physicality of Moldova – the crumbling building, the frost eroded concrete, the rusting pipes, the ubiquitous trash.  There are very few public places that please the eye or gratify one’s craving to find order and harmony in one’s surroundings.

A typical apartment building
A typical apartment building

The chapter on Moldova was quite revelatory in its illustrative vignettes which capture those elusive experiences I have found so difficult to articulate.  Here, for example, is a brief exchange between Weiner and a hotel clerk which highlights the impenetrable, obstinate ennui that seems to have a stranglehold on the population:

I return to the hotel. My Semi-Luxe room is hot, very hot.   I call down to the front desk.

“Where is the air-conditioning?”

“Oh, no sir, there is no air-conditioning in the Semi-Luxe room. Only in the Luxe room.”

“Well, can I upgrade to a Luxe room?”

“No sir, that is not possible.”

“Can I get a fan?”

“No sir, that is not possible. But you are free to bring your own.”

Graffiti transcends borders
Graffiti transcends borders

Weiner even visits a group of Peace Corps volunteers, for whom he feels nothing but pity.  After all, as he astutely notes, “We can’t very well call it the US Bliss Corps, but that’s what it is: an attempt to remake the world in our own happy image.”  And indeed, this is one of the hardest things for me to accommodate to here. My own happiness sparkles a bit before fizzling out in the face of such pervasive doom and gloom.  It is difficult to find something – anything – that Moldovans are happy about and you can’t really blame them.  When you live in a country corrupted by nepotism, cronyism, and graft; where medical and legal degrees are purchased outright and passing grades are conferred on children of influential parents even when they don’t attend school; where prescriptions are purchased by those who have enough money to bid for a medical appointment in the first place; where only a portion of the international aid flowing in is doled out by the few who have established themselves as trustworthy merely because they speak English; when you live in a country that is a country in name only, but does not appear to generate a cohesive culture that binds people into a group identity that supersedes narrow-minded, short-term pursuits in favor of broad-based, mutually-beneficial reciprocity, you lose. Period.

A public bench

For about the last month, it has become increasingly apparent to my partner that our center is in serious danger of losing its operational revenue after December 31. For reasons I won’t get into here, we have not been successful at finding new sources of funding.  My partner has been coming into my office the past few days and sitting in the chair opposite me, her eyes dull and ringed in dark circles, shoulders sagging, hands nervously fidgeting about her face and hair.

“Ce facem, Yvette?”  What do we do?

I don’t know.  I don’t know. “Nu știu.”

I am not the lucky talisman I was at the beginning.  Bit by bit, I feel myself succumbing to the demoralizing ennui.  I don’t know how to battle the forces that so relentlessly pound people down here. Of course, as an American and as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I keep taking this failure personally.  Why can’t I figure it out? Where is the magic formula that will make this tangled web of lunacy unravel into a logical thread of hope? Why can’t my relentless American optimism overcome this amorphous miasma of despair?  I hear myself telling her that she pursue her dream of moving to the United States – escape this country, find a better life for herself and her husband and kids.

And then I stop myself, horrified – what am I saying?  My country’s better than your country? How un-PC am I?

Pedestrians waiting to cross the street
Pedestrians waiting to cross the street

I think I’m ceding to the notion that the line between the outside and the inside is not as sharply defined as we like to think.  Although the metaphor of the stalwart individual shaking her fist at the world and turning the tides of fate may be heroic, it does not make room for the millions of people who want to live ordinary, peaceful, predictable, and – yes – mundane lives.  Not everyone yearns to be Joan of Ark.

Many western nations naively believe that by “liberating” people and then handing them a toolkit for democracy, we guarantee them future success and happiness. But it’s not that simple.  Democracy is predicated on the basis of people trusting in one another, on a shared culture that instills faith in process and creates points of entry into those processes for everyone. Moldovans, 20 years after leaving the Soviet Union, do not have that.  At one point in their conversation, Ruut Veenhoven observes to Eric Weiner, “The quality of society is more important than your place in that society.” The truth of those words rings clearer to me each and every day that I live here in Moldova.

Daily exchange rates advertised everywhere - what a grim reminder...
Daily exchange rates advertised everywhere – what a grim reminder…

I am trying, as best as possible, in all my interactions, to mirror back the innate optimism and belief in democratic process that being a product of American culture has instilled in me.  And I have met so many, many Moldovans who want to believe, who yearn for change.  But it certainly doesn’t help that many of the best of them are sucked out of the country by the promise of an easier life elsewhere. The changes that need to occur are not going to happen in one person’s lifetime.  They must be willing to fight for a legacy that will only be realized by their children, or their children’s children, or their grandchildren’s children.

And how many of us Americans have shown the willingness to do that nowadays?

Meanwhile, happiness comes in small doses, in conversations around the table with Nina, in watching the women work so lovingly with the kids at my center, in sharing a meal with new friends, in solo walks around the lake behind my house.  And, I must confess, in getting together with other PCVs, whose vibrant American souls continue to recharge my battery and create new energetic input to my “self.”

The point of hope...
The point of hope…

I appreciate my fellow citizens, body and soul, like never before.

Bless you, America and all you Peace Corps Volunteers here in Moldova…be the change you wish to see in the world!

*All photographs are courtesy of fellow PCV Britt Hill – no relation, though I would be happy to claim her.  She has a much better eye for detail than I do so I shamelessly stole them from her FB site.

Thanks Britt!!!

And the question is: why there, not here?

I hope I have been abundantly clear to all of you who have taken the time to leave a comment on one of my posts how much they are appreciated. Writing a blog is a little like standing up on stage (sitting at my desk) alone staring out into the blinding white lights that effectively erase the audience (the blinding white page on the monitor) and floating a monologue (pressing “publish”) that may or may not hit a resonant chord with my readers (comment/no comment.) Actually, I myself read many blogs that I think are wonderful but all too often I don’t take the time to comment as I’m not really sure I have anything pertinent to say. That’s bad etiquette on my part, given my first hand knowledge of what a boost it gives the writer to see that someone was moved enough to join the conversation.
Anyway, I received a comment on my last post – 9-5 – that posed a very incisive question, one that I’m pretty sure must have bounced through the minds of more than a few people who know me, but was never actually put to me in person: So why are you there providing volunteer services in a foreign land rather than here helping your own community/country/people? As the commenter truthfully pointed out, there are many poverty stricken, marginalized, under-served communities in the United States. And if all of us just focused on taking care of our own, perhaps there wouldn’t be the perceived need to fly halfway across the world to provide meaningful service to humanity?
This comment definitely made me sit back and go “hmmm.” Initially, I was impelled to react and, fingers poised above the keyboard, I sifted through the myriad arguments tumbling through my brain in an effort to decide which one to put first. But then I stopped. I realized that this was an important question that deserved thoughtful consideration, as (I confess) there have been more than a few times that I have asked myself the very same thing. So I’ve been mulling it over all day. And here’s where I’ve landed:
The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:
1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Perhaps because of their simplicity and clarity, these goals have not changed in the 51 years since the Peace Corps inception. They wholly contain the very essence of a volunteer’s service and manage to embody – for me, at least – the reason why our government (and we taxpayers) see fit to continue funding this seemingly idealistic enterprise through administrations of both persuasions and times of dearth as well as plenty. There is a method to this madness. Let me explain.

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.

Yes, I highlighted that word for a reason. If a country or a people are ever going to progress beyond the perilous escarpment of hand-to-mouth survival, they must be able to realize the benefits of critical thinking.

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.”*

Surprise, surprise: critical thinking is not a universal entitlement conferred on all people at the moment of their birth. Rather, it is a hard won skill, usually gained through many years of exposure to a broad range of circumstances and/or – for a lucky and infinitesimally small percentage of the world’s population – through enlightened public education. Despite what for many appears to be a dismal state of the public school system in the USA, we still do promote the value of critical thinking. One learns that by experiencing the stark contrast with educational institutions elsewhere (a nod to you Patty.) As expensive as it is increasingly becoming, an American university education is still a world-class vehicle for learning to think critically if one applies oneself firmly to that goal. And it is precisely that kind of training that poverty stricken, marginalized, under-served populations throughout the world desperately need.

I subscribe to ten or twelve Peace Corps Volunteer blogs; I drop in on at least that many from time to time. One universal theme that runs in common through them all is a general surprise/disbelief/incomprehension/frustration/sadness about the “superstitions” that dictate so much of their host communities’ decisions, choices, and development. Couple those with a pervasive lack of comprehensive schooling, the afflictions of diasporas, warfare, governmental instability, and disease and you have a set of circumstances that Americans have not had to deal with since the aftermath of the Civil War.

I am not denying that desperate people exist in the USA. But I will proffer the argument that they have easier, more immediate access to meaningful, long-term assistance: there are a multitude of investigators, journalists, educators, attorneys, laboratories, foundations, government agencies, research institutions, think tanks and charities that have the resources to at least posit resolutions for problems within our borders. That is not the case in many other countries where Peace Corps Volunteers serve because those aforementioned resolutions are most often the expression of critical thought, a skill which many of them sorely lack and determinedly seek.

The first goal speaks to our commitment to partner with interested countries (they have to ask for our assistance – we don’t invade or force ourselves upon them) in creating those resources which can help them help themselves. This is the quality that my commenter assumes that all peoples possess but which, in fact, they don’t. However impoverished various American communities, neighborhoods, or individuals might be, they have the distinctive, enviable quality of being American – a benefit whose worth we don’t usually recognize until it’s put into stark contrast with alternative nationalities. I left America in a state of perturbed disgust; I am beginning now to acknowledge and appreciate many aspects of its intrinsic value which I patently assumed to be a universal entitlement.

2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

This is a loaded one. Really. Because many of us PCVs here in Moldova appreciate, having recently taken up residence in a former Soviet state, the implications of providing an alternative viewpoint to the one which was sanctioned and forced down Moldovans throats for many a decade. It is – literally – a battle between east and west to win the hearts and minds of a psychologically distressed population which has been traded back and forth like a pawn in a global chess game for centuries.

Have you ever really pondered the image of America that is most constantly, loudly, persistently, pervasively portrayed overseas? For starters, most everyone in Moldova thinks Americans are fat, gluttonous, greedy, obnoxious, loud, rich, lazy, surgically-enhanced pigs. Because that is what our media messages convey through all their various platforms: movies, television, magazines, advertisements, YouTube, games, Facebook, news and entertainment sites. We are not blanketing the world with love. Rather than creating bonds of similitude and friendship, we typically seed notions of competition and self-consciousness, which usually serve to distance people both from each other and themselves. We are not the caped-crusaders we like to picture ourselves to be. Actually, unfortunately, we have a distinctly evil grimace from most angles.

On top of that, we currently represent approximately 4.6% of the world’s population while consuming almost 25% of its energy. AND we export the inculcation of insatiability – we have it all and so the rest of the world should have it too. Never mind that there is not enough stuff (energy) to satisfy 6 billion individual desires for more meat and plastic and timber and gas and electricity and coal and steel and gold and caviar and diamonds and platinum and ……we could – and do, mind you – go on and on. We have fostered the concept that the world’s resources are infinite, rather than finite. We have role modeled wastefulness and ingratitude and greed. We have not paused even once to consider the larger implications of the “American dream.”

We may be heroic at home but increasingly, and unfortunately, we have squandered that reputation abroad. Considered as a portion of the nation’s economy, or of its federal expenditures, the U.S. is actually among the smallest donors of international aid among the world’s developed countries. Yet we boast the largest military expenditures by far, we have a president who has ordered the assassination of American citizens living abroad and we have yet to officially acknowledge the ravages of global warming, which are having far more detrimental effects on third world countries than on us.

Do you see why we might need friendly, altruistic ambassadors doing good deeds in foreign lands?

3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Interestingly, one does not relinquish the title, or responsibilities, of being a Peace Corps Volunteer once service overseas concludes. I will be known as an “RPCV” or a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer for the remainder of my life. And I will be expected to continue my service – to a greater or lesser degree, the choice is mine – by mindfully promoting a better understanding of the country of Moldova and its people through talking about my experiences to other Americans (watch out world – you might find me somewhat tedious at social gatherings after this!)
Joking aside, it is truly unfortunate that most Americans have little experience of cultures outside of our own. It is why terrorists are so successful in inducing fear and our own government is able to slowly chip away at our privacy and civil rights in response. It is why the preponderance of people (myself included) who learned I was going to Moldova had to Google it to find out where it was. The numbers tell the story: Of the 308 million-plus citizens in the United States, only 30% have passports. And most of those passports are not being used to gain access to third world communities for extended periods, I’m pretty darn sure.

Every single blog I’ve read from current and past volunteers who have served in such “scary” countries as Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Columbia, Iran, Libya, Nicaragua, Turkmenistan, and Uganda have all sung hallelujahs to the hospitality, generosity, warmth, and caring of the communities that hosted them. Our current interim Country Director, along with all serving PCVs, was just pulled out of Tunisia for safety and security reasons. Despite this, he said that his partners and agency staff were “regular people just like us” who abhorred the violence being perpetrated in their towns and neighborhoods. Just like every single American isn’t a gangster, not every single person born to the Muslim faith or a tyrannical government is a terrorist. We have to get beyond our incestuous self-righteousness and really see and feel in our bones that most people have the same wants, needs, desires, and emotions as us if we are all going to make it into the next century.

So there is one long-winded, but definitely pondered response to the question of why I have chosen to serve in the Peace Corps overseas at this point in my life.

And, as a sidebar, I do wish to point out that for 20 years – until I was forced out – I worked in the non-profit sector making substantially less (as my husband and father would tirelessly remind me) than I could have working in the corporate arena. I have done my part for some of the underserved people in my own community. Have you?

*A statement by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul for the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking Instruction

ET (Going Home)

Picnic in Cricova with Roberto, Patty, Elsa, Carl, and Jenn

No, I will not be announcing here that extraterrestrials have set up camp in my dulap de heine in Stauceni. Nor have I been transported to another world by way of Moldova’s unconventional transportation system. In Peace Corps lingo “ET” stands for ‘early termination,’ which means that a PCV’s service ends – for whatever reason – prior to the standard 27 month commitment we all make. In the last week, three COD PCVs from the M26 group voluntarily ET’d for personal reasons. It happens so quickly that it takes your breath away and has left the collective mouth of our little group of temporarily reunited COD M27s slightly agape.

It is not my intention to name names or describe the specifics of these three PCVs’ circumstances. I was fortunate to have spent extended time with two of them and all three were significantly involved with the M27s as trainers and mentors. Through accidental circumstance, I had the opportunity to talk with all three as they were contemplating their respective decisions; I witnessed the intense, drawn out deliberation in which they each, in their own way, engaged. It was definitely not an impulsive or reactive move for any of them. However, most of the other volunteers in my group did not get that window into their motives and were left shocked and awed when their departure was announced by our program director at the start of a training the other day.

In some ways, I don’t know if it has made it harder for me to have talked with them about what they were thinking and feeling prior to deciding to throw in the towel. They all had very legitimate, substantial issues that fed their ultimate conclusions. Two of them had significant others that were waiting patiently for them at home. One of them had chronic health issues that had plagued her throughout her entire service; one had recently developed a puzzling problem with her heart. One had gone without water in her village for almost three months during the height of the summer heat. (She had to buy water to wash her dishes – needless to say she was NOT getting regular bucket baths or hair washings.) There were issues with partners not participating in partnership, organizations that had drifted without purpose, communities that were disengaged or insular and unwelcoming.

Romy and Lindsey – Warren in back

But despite this, these women (they were all female) kept trying. For 15 months they gave it their all. They greeted the M27s with enthusiasm and verve. They put their best foot forward every time they saw us, not wanting to mar our experience or influence our perception of what Peace Corps service can be. They were so successful at accomplishing this that many of the M27s were left a bit bruised by their sudden disappearance from our lives: how could they have fooled us so completely? How did we not see it coming? If it could happen to them, the tenure of anyone of us becomes a legitimate question mark for the future.

The Peace Corps is surprisingly, almost cathartically efficient, with early terminations. Once you announce your intention to quit, you are sent packing within three days. There is little time to say goodbye, to have “closure” with people, to tie up all the loose ends you will be leaving behind. Perhaps they are smart to do it this way. Once you realize that “ETing” is possible, it is suddenly a presence in your day to day life, looming off your shoulder like some doppelganger Grim Reaper, threatening to undermine your determination and snatch you out of the small circle of routines that you have managed to draw around yourself which sustain the illusion of purposeful, progressive action.

Coming together again for PST III has dealt an unplanned, somewhat unwelcome, blow to the burgeoning stoicism of many of us. We were just beginning to tread a groove, incorporating the small tricks of successful integration – greeting the vendors at the piața, learning the names of the children in our apartment block, familiarizing ourselves with the drivers of our local matrushkas, preparing American meals for our host families, recognizing the intonations of our coworkers’ speech patterns. Then – bang – we’re suddenly back at the beginning again, returned to the families and locals where we first landed as naifs in Moldova, faced with the discomfort of knowing we’re not the same people anymore, that time moves on without us, seasons change, relationships stretch and sometimes sour, and even those that remain are tinged with bittersweet. This is transitory. And now three seemingly permanent fixtures of our experience here have evaporated overnight. Nothing can be counted on, really.

Tamara (Moldovan neighbor) and Patty with puppy

One thing I am coming to understand is that – despite over 200,000 people having served in the Peace Corps to date – there is no standard “Peace Corps experience.”  Even within the environs of a tiny village, two volunteers will have two very different experiences, comprised of a unique amalgam of program, host family make-up, counterpart investment, health issues, relationship and family circumstances back in the States, purpose in being here, age, emotional proclivities…I could go on and on.  There is no way to pick out the qualities of a “successful” volunteer or predict who will make it through 27 months of service and who will decide to leave prematurely.

It used to drive us crazy when we would ask our mentors for specific advice during PST for integrating successfully or making it through the winters or motivating our partners or learning the language or adapting to the different foods, or coping with the lack of adequate sanitation and the inevitable response was ALWAYS prefaced by “It depends….”  Everything depends here.

Georgie and Romy

One of the ET’ing PCVs sent all of the M27s an email just before she departed from the Peace Corps offices to board her plane back home.  It was very long and heartfelt; one sentiment stood out for me:

“You each will likely face challenges and moments when you want to scream, laugh, cry, dance, give up, sing, and push like you’ve never pushed before. When you feel those emotions, follow them. The most important part about my Peace Corps experience was getting to know myself better and learning my limits, despite how well I thought I already knew them. I encourage you all to be open to all the adventures you will face and not to be discouraged by anyone else’s Peace Corps experience, including my own. At the same time, knowing yourself is also knowing when it’s time to walk away so if and when you ever feel like you’re time as a volunteer is done, I encourage you to see past the guilt and appreciate your experience for what it was.

I had never contemplated, before now, the idea that my service could be successful if I did not make it the entire two years.  That is part of the challenge that I posed for myself in joining.  And I still fully intend to see it through.  But it is unnerving to realize that very strong, dedicated, and capable people have chosen otherwise.  Many of them, in fact – the statistics are about 30% of any given group does not make it to the end of service.  I had read this before I came to Moldova, but I didn’t understand the full impact of what it meant when you actually know the people leaving and understand their reasons, when you can feel their reasons beginning to take hold within your very bones some days.

Peace Corps service is hard, but it’s hard for each person for a different reason.  So while we serve together, we are also alone on our own separate journeys, testing our own limits, stretching to surmount our own barriers, defining our successes in a very personal way.  Somewhat like running a marathon with a team, each person’s ability to go the distance is his or hers alone.  I cannot lend strength, or fortitude, or persistence, or happiness, or the ability to ignore a crushing pain to someone else, no matter how hard I wish for them to succeed.

So being together again in Stauceni and knowing that these one or more of these eight people that have shared this absolutely unforgettable and unrepeatable experience with me may not be here next year is a sobering reality check.  And they may be looking at me and wondering the same thing.

Me and Elsa

Dance, World.

So today is the 11th anniversary of 9/11.  Not necessarily a time period that will garner huge headlines back home, but – because I coincidentally referenced 9/11 in yesterday’s blog – it was in my mind as one of those shared experiences that, unfortunately, create a separate cultural context for me and my fellow PCVs from that of our Moldovan counterparts.  And that’s a shame.  Because it is through fostering that sort of subtle, but seemingly insurmountable divide, that those who wish to “terrorize” us win.

Yet it also put me in mind of a wonderful cross-cultural experiment that one crazy American is carrying on throughout the world: Matt Harding dances and is encouraging people to join him in rollicking troupe performances at locations across the planet.  You can read his whole story here, and I really encourage you to take a moment and do so, because it is one of those heart warming tales that affirm our best aspirations and that will breathe fire into whatever little fantasy might lurk in the wee morning hours about taking your life and propelling into a whole new trajectory.

Matt, for me, is the quintessential expression of everything that is uniquely, wonderfully amazing about Americans.  His ability to spread joy and create a shared space for exuberant fun and laughter is the BEST weapon I know for fighting the effects of terrorism.  I think the United States government should sponsor Matt, and others like him, to travel the world and spread the infectious exhilaration that being silly and energetic and jubilant together can germinate.  I defy anyone to watch this video and keep a smile from leaking across your face.  To paraphrase John Lennon: let’s give dance a chance.

So, as my friend Patty likes to say, “Put on your dance pants” before clicking: Where in the hell is Matt?

Here are the lyrics to Trip the Light, the song that everyone in the world should get to dance to, together, someday:

If all the days that come to pass

Are behind these walls

I’ll be left at the end of things

In a world kept small

Travel far from what i know

I’ll be swept away

I need to know I can be lost and not afraid

We’re gonna trip the light

We’re gonna break the night

And we’ll see with new eyes

When we trip the light

Remember we’re lost together

Remember we’re the same

We hold the burning rhythm in our hearts

We hold the flame

We’re gonna trip the light

We’re gonna break the night

And we’ll see with new eyes

When we trip the light (x2)

I’ll find my way home

On the western wind

To a place that was once my world

Back from where I’ve been

And in the morning light I’ll remember

As the sun will rise

We are all the glowing embers

Of a distant fire

We’re gonna trip the light

We’re gonna break the night

And we’ll see with new eyes

When we trip the light (x3)

Right back at you, al Qaeda!

Hitching a Ride


So this past Saturday I am cornered into attending baby Alexandru’s 5 month birth day party.  As mentioned in a previous blog, my host sister Nina is the nona for a delightful young couple who have three boys, the youngest one for whom Nina is the „matsura.”  This is akin to a godmother, though it doesn’t appear to have as much to do with religion as it does with providing presents each month on the anniversary day of his birth. (I am beginning to wonder if I will have to be in attendance for the next 7 months, until he turns one.)

The celebration is again in Boghaceni but – since it is not raining this time – I feel a bit less trepidation regarding the logistics of the journey.  That was before I figured out that Nina would be traveling at a different time than me, so had arranged for me to accompany a male friend of hers that had been by the apartment a week or so ago for lunch.  (Nina has quite a little harem of male friends whose relationship to/with her I am not able to absorb with any real degree of understanding.)  This particular friend is a „profesor de mașina școala” (a driving school instructor) and purportedly has his own vehicle in which he conducts his lessons.

So I’m thinking: Cool, my own chauffer again – ala Therry .  Only this time it’s an actual driving instructor so he probably drives a whole lot better.  And, as I wait on the street in front of the apartment building for him to appear, I actually begin to have little fantasies about the car he drives: Perhaps it has door handles that work from the inside…maybe even seatbelts… air vents…maybe it will be one of those Landcruisers I see all over town with leather seats and leg room… crap! It might even have air conditioning OMG!!! 

Then suddenly, he’s in front of me, smiling and lifting my bag and motioning for me to cross the street.  Huh?  Where’s the car?  Maybe he parked across the street…  Hey wait a minute!  I realize this is not the driving instructor, but his side kick, the one that kept asking me if I had a daughter in SUA and whether she was married (dude, gross, you’re my age!)  As I am busily trying form topics for conversation that don’t involve my daughter we stop at the corner amidst the crowds waiting for a ride out of town.  Hmmm.  Is he trying to solicit a passenger before we even get in the car? I’ve never seen this done before, but okay. 

It takes me a full minute to realize that, in fact, there is no car, we have no ride, and we are among a haphazard hoard coalesced on this corn attempting to flag down some sort of vehicle to transport us into the hinterlands.  Ok.  I can do this.  I can get into a car with a veritable stranger driven by another stranger to go to a strange village to celebrate a strange event with strangers.  I am in the Peace Corps. And I have equipped myself suitably, this time, with a bottle of wine and a bag of candy.  I am integrated.  Can’t wait to get there.

It takes maybe 10 to 15 minutes, during which time my friend – let’s call him Andrei, I never did get his name, because, after spending as much time in close quarters with someone as I did him, you just can’t figure out the tactful way to ask his name  – approached a variety of vehicles, from luxury SUVs to something sporting four wheels that was just barely above a horse cart, before he finally found us a ride on a plumbers? Electricians? Construction suppliers? van headed for the Romanian border.  It had room enough for a multitude of us and that’s indeed what boarded….maybe 8 to 10 people.  My friend Andrei seemed to immediately adopt the cruise director role – he is inviting others aboard and negotiating prices and storing baggage and helping old ladies board.  Everybody instantly adores him.

We sit in the front with the driver and I am instantly in the middle of a lively repartee.  Jokes are flying back and forth and words I’ve never heard, punctuated by loud guffaws, are exchanged (everyone in back is strangely silent – I think it best not to ask.)  I clutch my bag, managing not to land on the dashboard or Andrei’s lap through interminable miles of bumpy, pothole punctuated road.  Two times the van/truck pulls over and Andrei  negotiates prices with the people congregated on the side of the road (why he is suddenly anointed part of the bargaining team, I could not for the life of me figure out.)  He also gets out to help another bunică (grandmother) onto the truck.  She apparently gets to ride for free.

After about 45 minutes we are dropped off at the side of the highway at a place I vaguely recognize to be near the road I turned down the last time I visited the baby Alexander.  Only we’re some 100 yards afield ( kilometers?) from the turnoff and Andrei doesn’t appear to be the least bit interested in heading that way.  Instead, he motions me to pull out my phone (it seems he doesn’t have one – what?) and we make a call to Nina, who shouts something rapidly, and all but unintelligibly, to me and then hangs up.  We try several other phone numbers with no answer.  We call back Nina and I hand the phone quickly to Andrei.  He speaks for awhile and I gather that the car that is supposed to retrieve us is not working and we will have to walk.  Oh really.  Here we go again.  (Me and my diva knee.)

So we walk.  Down a road in the opposite direction of the road I took before.  (Andrei?  I don’t think this is the road…no cred acest este drumul…) And we walk.  But – oh  my lord above, and now I hear the angels singing, – a rutiera goes by and dear Andrei flags it down.  Some words are exchanged.  Things aren’t perfect I can tell – this is a rural road going nowhere and this rutiera cannot be the final solution, but we board.  And drive about a hundred feet (meters?) And then stop.  In front of a gate to a house.  And someone comes out.  And I dare to think: oh, we are here!  Even though this wasn’t the road I took before and this isn’t the house I went to before, perhaps we are here!  And Andrei is back slapping the dude and they are talking and laughing and he invites us in and then we’re in a courtyard where some 20 people are seated around a table with a pile of food and wine. And a glass of wine is poured, for both me and Andrei.  And the standard “Noroc” is hailed and we clink glasses and drink.  But I don’t see Nina…unde este Nina? I ask. Andrei looks at me funny.  Mergem…(we go.)

To continue walking.  A mile of country road. Goats. Geese. Silence.  Unde vom merge? (Where are we going?)  Another quizzical look from Andrei.  (Like, why is this so hard to understand, you dimwitted American?) Then there is a man standing on a corner.  Andrei engages him in animated conversation.  The man takes my bag. He begins to walk with us down another road.  (Is he a guide, sent to find us? An angel affirming our path? A beggar looking for a handout? I have not a clue.  I never will find out.)   Some twenty or so minutes later we enter another gate.  No one appears to be around.  Andrei calls out.  A man emerges from one of the houses in a bathrobe.  It is the original driving school instructor.  He is naked beneath a bathrobe that barely hits his knees.  The man carrying my bag returns it to me, gives us a salute and departs.  I guess we don’t know him, after all. (Just like we didn’t know the people at the first house, where the rutiera dropped us, and they offered us wine.)

The driving school instructor returns to the house.  I accompany Andrei into the extensive garden out back, where I spend a half hour admiring the plushly plump grapes and dead yellowed corn.  We return to the house when we hear Nina’s voice.  She is really here.  I am not a victim of an eastern European human trafficking ring, after all.

Thence commences a three hour interlude in which I am fed wonderfully roasted meats, fresh vegetables, homemade bread, and watermelon, washed down by a not insignificant number of glasses of homemade wine.  I must confess that I spend most of the time with the six year old, who is completely and all too easily enamored by the games I’ve previously downloaded onto my iPad ( I do think ahead, folks.) Romanian chatter surrounds me.  I understand a smattering.  A mere smattering.  I am blissfully happy not having to respond, caught up in play with the six-year-old ( never mind that it isn’t me he wants, it’s the iPad doing all the engagement.)

And then it’s time to leave (after the dancing part, but I don’t think I could really do that justice, so I’ll just leave it out for now.)  We’ve made the obligatory trip to the beci (the underground cave where Moldovan’s store their wine and jars of peppers and probably conduct all their dirty deeds) and I have been offered, and drank, the requisite cupful of 200 proof alcohol.  My head is reeling.  Now we need to find our way home, the three of us (thank God,) Nina, Andrei, and me.

Alexandru’s father gives us a ride to the highway. We disgorge from the car a laughing, rollicking mess – all three of us are drunk beyond our extended years.   We’re much too old for this. Now we find ourselves standing by the side of deserted highway. Not a car in sight.

But- what’s this?  There are hummingbirds.  Yes.  Hummingbirds, feeding on flowers by the side of the highway.  And I am, of course, enamored.  Hummingbirds!!  I say.  (This in English.)  Andrei and Nina don’t speak English.  I MUST find the words to communicate.  BBBBRRRRRR, I say, and flap my arms.  I point to the hummingbirds. “Pasarea mica”  (Little birds) BBBBBRRRRZZZZ.   Nina grimaces.  “Insecte!” she says, very clearly.  Huh?  Insect?  NO, IT’S A HUMMINGBIRD!  BBBBRRRRZZZZZ.

And then they start laughing, Andrei and Nina.  And laughing.  And laughing. And laughing.   “Nu vorbești Engleza, nu vorbești Română.”  (you can’t speak English, you can’tspeak Romanian.”  They think I am making buzzing noises because I am drunk.  They are falling down by the side of the road; laughing at me.  I laugh along.  I WILL integrate, I will!!!

And then a huge truck is pulling up, right alongside of us, as we are rolling about on the road.  Andrei springs to action, garnering us a ride.  And then I am heaving myself after Nina, 10 feet (meters?) up in the air.  The seat is dented, crooked ( like so much of Moldova) and I spend the entire 45 minute ride trying not to roll onto Andrei’s lap as he braces himself against the dashboard.  Jokes are flying, along with our bags, as we careen down the road at a high rate of speed, accompanied by a mishmash of Russian/Ukranian rap inexplicably punctuated with American love ballads. By this time of night I should be asleep, only I am too conscious of how close I am brushing up against anonymous death.  I should be remembering this moment, I think.

And it seems that I did.


(Were they really hummingbirds, I try to recall the next day?  Or giant scary insects?  Who is right, I think?  Who really cares…)

Sofer mi franceza

So another adventure in Moldovan logistics leaves me wilted and limp from the effects of too much sun and an adrenaline rush.  Some times I wonder if I will survive my Peace Corps service intact.

This is my driver, Therry.  Now he’s not my personal driver, but he has been the person – other than anonymous rutiera drivers – primarily responsible for transporting me from point A to point B in Moldova.  He picked me up in Chișinău and brought me to Hîncești, he drove Ana and I to a work-related meeting in Chișinău last week, and yesterday she arranged for him to drive me and two other PCVs to Orhei Veche for the Gustar music Festival (more on that in a minute.)  He is somehow connected to Ana and/or the organization where I work, but the details remain ambiguous and elusive.

Therry is French.  He speaks only French, yet he’s lived in Moldova for more than two years.  He doesn’t appear to have a job, yet he certainly isn’t without money or other resources.  I asked him once (through Google translate) how he made money to live here and he actually made the sign for zipping his lips and walked away. That was the end of that conversation.

Therry is almost stereotypically, cartoonishly French, his gestures are so animated and exaggerated. He is forever kissing women’s hands, arms and cheeks – a mode of greeting viewed as informally, inappropriately intimate and not usually welcomed or tolerated by Moldovan woman from perfect strangers.  But somehow he gets away with it.  Probably because he’s French.

Therry drives in a manner commensurate with his personality – large, haphazard, and flamboyant.  Lanes are not even suggestions, they’re meaningless markings left behind from some another rule-bound activity that couldn’t possible apply to him.  One side of the road is as legitimate as the other in the race to reach his destination.  Other drivers are obstacles placed in his trajectory that he must surmount and occlude. Potholes are launching pads for gaining air speed. At one point I checked the speedometer and he appeared to be doing 95.  This, in a Renault four-speed van that was not manufactured in this century, equipped with just the shoulder-harness part of the seatbelts and door handles that only work from the outside. Now I understand why vehicle accidents represent the largest percentage of all Peace Corps’ in-service fatalities.  And I’m not even in Africa.

Therry was supposed to pick me up at my house at 10:00am for the two-hour trip to Orhei Veche.  By 10:30 when he hadn’t arrived, I texted Ana.  (This, and all my subsequent communication with Therry throughout our tumultuous day, had to be conducted through a web of communication devices involving my partner Ana, who speaks French and Romanian; her friend Doina, who speaks Romanian and English; Irina, who was in the car with us, but only speaks Romanian; and me. It felt a bit like the United Nations.)  Ana texted back to say that Therry was at the vets with his dogs and would be here at 11:00.

When 11:30 arrived with no sign of Therry I texted Laura, who was waiting for us at the PC Office, to call her work partner Doina to find out what was going on.  Doina called Ana who said that Therry had come to my door, knocked and rang the bell repeatedly, but got no answer.  (Apparently, he went to the wrong apartment.) Ana sent Therry back again to retrieve Lindsey and me.  When he pulled up, there were already five people in the van, including him.  He was motioning for us to get in, even though there was no room.  I climbed in the luggage space in back of the seats and Lindsey got onto someone’s lap in the back.  I immediately called Doina to tell her I didn’t know where we were going to put Laura.  As we were talking, however, Therry pulled up to an apartment building and the three others in the back with Lindsey got out. (It turned out they were Irina’s kids who they decided to take with them when they couldn’t find us.)

By 12:30, 2 ½ hours after our scheduled departure time, we had picked up Laura and were on the road to the Gustar music festival at Orhei Vechi.  Why anyone would allow music promoters to hold a festival at the site of a thousand-year-old archeological site astounds me, but this is what happens when governments are occupied with struggles that prioritize concerns more basic than the preservation of history and culture.  (Paul, you were interested in hearing samples of the local music: click on the “Gustar” link above for a video showcasing many of the performers.)

We roared into the parking lot about 2:30pm.  And I do mean roared. Therry barely slows down to park, so we hit the small boulder that you see in the left foreground in this picture at about 25 miles an hour.  Hence, the flat tire.  Puzzled at the hissing of air, Therry exits the vehicle sees the tire and shrugs: “Nu problemu.”  (I think this is an amalgamation of Spanish, French, and Romanian.)  We left him to deal with the ‘problemu’ and climbed a few steep grades in 95 degree heat to find the festival.  We ran into a host of other foreigners, from various points in the globe, all of whom spoke English (it is the common tongue of the world, still.)

In case you didn’t click on the links above, here are some of the pictures I took of the monks’ cells carved out of the slope and the most amusing site at the festival: a train made from oil cans and drawn by a tractor:

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The festival was the just the juxtaposition of centuries I’ve come to expect from Moldova: horse drawn carts and hay wagons coupled with a state of the art sound system and cold beer on tap.  A host of PCVs were there with tents and sleeping bags; they planned on making a weekend of it.  Me?  I guess 50 is NOT the new 18 when it comes to sleeping on the ground, peeing in the bushes, and negotiating crowds of party animals.  I braved the ride back with Therry, whom we only found again after an hour of cross-texting and phoning between our multi-lingual navigation team.  When we finally reunited (after another mile and half trudge in mind-bending heat – no wonder I’m losing weight by the hour) I climbed in the back, buckled my scrap of a seat belt, and closed my eyes.  I didn’t open them again until Therry slammed us into the curb in front of my apartment.  Man was I glad to be home.

Dancing the waltz

Anais Nin and Henry Miller

I will admit that I spend more time on the Internet these days (and I didn’t know that was even possible) since the work site I have been assigned to won’t open until September 1 and it’s back to being a bloody inferno outside.  Because I have so much time to surf, I fortuitously encounter different articles from divergent sources that somehow overlap or coincide, amplifying each other’s message and causing the information to echo through my brain for several days.

Here’s one example.  On Monday morning I received my weekly newsletter from Brain Pickings, a website I highly recommend if you want to be served a veritable smorgasbord of interesting information dipping into such varied topics as art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, and anthropology.  There was a piece culled from the third volume of Anais Nin’s diary, wherein she transcribed a letter written to her by Henry Miller. He is describing the synergy of altruism:

“For me it is no problem to depend on others. I am always curious to see how far people will go, how big a test one can put them to.

Certainly there are humiliations involved, but aren’t these humiliations due rather to our limitations? Isn’t it merely our pride which suffers? It’s only when we demand that we are hurt. I, who have been helped so much by others, I ought to know something of the duties of the receiver. It’s so much easier to be on the giving side. To receive is much harder — one actually has to be more delicate, if I may say so. One has to help people to be more generous. By receiving from others, by letting them help you, you really aid them to become bigger, more generous, more magnanimous. You do them a service.

And then finally, no one likes to do either one or the other alone. We all try to give and take, to the best of our powers. It’s only because giving is so much associated with material things that receiving looks bad. It would be a terrible calamity for the world if we eliminated the beggar. The beggar is just as important in the scheme of things as the giver. If begging were ever eliminated God help us if there should no longer be a need to appeal to some other human being, to make him give of his riches. Of what good abundance then? Must we not become strong in order to help, rich in order to give and so on? How will these fundamental aspects of life ever change?”

Miller manages to make so many points here pertinent to my situation in Moldova that I wonder if perhaps he’s been peeking over my shoulder some days from wherever his juicy spirit happens to be oozing right now.

Peace Corps Volunteers – in all countries where we serve, I would venture to say – are involved in a delicate dance with their host country nationals.  We are giving to them, of our time, our expertise, our education, our energy.  But they are reciprocating: they are opening their homes and work places, teaching us their language and customs, sharing their food and wine, welcoming us in to important life events and celebrations, such as weddings, baptisms, and funerals.  Think about how difficult it might be to have a stranger show up at your door one day for a two year visit – one who does not know your language or cultural norms, much less recognize or respect your little idiosyncratic daily routines.  You need to familiarize them with your town, where the market is, the bank, the pharmacy, who the neighbors are and which places maybe dangerous or unsafe after dark. You need to show them where they can buy a hair dryer and how to hand wash their clothes.  Perhaps they don’t know how cook.  Or make a bed.  Maybe they are messy – even dirty, tracking mud throughout your home when they keep forgetting to remove their shoes at the door.

Then think about including this person into all your most emotional and memorable family events, taking them to your sister’s birthday party, your daughter’s graduation, your niece’s wedding, your father’s funeral, and having to watch out after them the whole time so they don’t do something culturally inappropriate like slap your aunt on the back or hug your brother when they are introduced or collapse on the ground in a heap if they’ve danced too hard or had one too many vodkas.  One must possess a true wealth of spirit and a large portion of patience to continue giving of oneself through those (perhaps seemingly endless) two years.

I won’t go into detail, but I did hear one story from a volunteer who was disrobed, bathed and cleaned like a baby, put to bed in crisp sheets, and had the bathroom swabbed of her mess after a bout of giardia that had her spewing from both ends.  (Did I mention there was no toilet – only a flimsy trash can – in said bathroom?)  And this all took place within minutes of her meeting her host parents. And the father was just as solicitous and nurturing as the mother. So there is definitely give and take going on here.

And this odd waltz can take place precisely because of the manner in which Peace Corps operates: it is coordinated and supported aid that doesn’t involve giving money to the “needy” – it is all about extending a hand of service within an intimate context that allows both the giver and receiver to participate fully in the exchange and to take the lead at different times.  And that hand can be extended by anyone – rich or poor, educated or ignorant, male or female, old or young, privileged or needy.  We can all be generous in spirit, in caring, in listening, in sharing, in inclusion, in opening ourselves to each other.

So after having had this Miller piece slosh around in my head for a couple of hours, I happened upon the following story on the NPR website about a new study published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

Study Reveals The Geography of Charitable Giving

For those of you who can’t bear to leave my scintillating expository, I extract a few pertinent quotes here:

Ever wonder how charitable the people are who live in your state or community? It turns out that lower-income people tend to donate a much bigger share of their discretionary incomes than wealthier people do. And rich people are more generous when they live among those who aren’t so rich.

…. High-income people who live in economically diverse neighborhoods give more on average than high-income people who live in wealthier neighborhoods.

Paul Piff, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, says that’s consistent with what he’s found in years of research on income and giving.

“The more wealth you have, the more focused on your own self and your own needs you become, and the less attuned to the needs of other people you also become,” he says. “Simply reminding wealthy people of the diversity of needs that are out there is going to go a long way toward restoring the empathy or compassion deficit that we otherwise see,” he says.

The NPR article concluded that it is important people see need first hand by integrating into heterogeneous neighborhoods that are economically diverse.  And I would amplify that thought by saying this is true not merely because those who see need will tend to be more generous, but because it is imperative that we allow the osmosis, the synergy, the waltz of generosity to be fully and deeply expressed by both the giver and the receiver.  And that can only happen when we are not isolated from each other, when we become part of the fabric of each other’s lives, when our homes and neighborhoods and customs and idiosyncratic behaviors are no longer “foreign” to each other.  I love Peace Corps for illustrating the truth of this, each and every day, all over the world, amongst thousands of dancing partners.

There are merits to playing both roles, to attaining the flexibility and humility to both lead and be led. We Americans must realize that the money and material goods some of hold in relative abundance are not the only sources of wealth that exist in this the world.  And that, perhaps, a much greater gift is presented sometimes by standing in the role of receiver.

I know most of you out there are not going to run out and join the Peace Corps.  But realize that you can give by receiving, too.  By stopping to talk to that person asking you for money on the corner, allowing him to tell you his story.  By accepting the dinner invitation from the couple that bores you to tears and just keeping your heart and mind open for a few hours.  Perhaps through attending the dance rehearsal of your next door neighbor’s granddaughter and clapping vigorously and enthusiastically.  Or going to the ethnic festival in your community center and participating in the dances, eating the food, and intermingling with people from diverse backgrounds.

Try putting yourself in places you normally avoid, meeting people that unnerve you just a bit, stepping outside of your comfort zone and risking humiliation by joining in the waltz maybe once or twice a week, all in the spirit of dancing.  Go ahead: I challenge you.  I’m doing it.

(And I’d love to hear any comments on what it felt like …)

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer

Holding my Oath of Office – I am a Peace Corps Volunteer!
Today, in a suitably serious and solemn ceremony, I and 37 members of my colleagues in the M27 Moldova group were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers.  (The rest of our group, Health and English Education Trainees, have 7 more days of “practice teaching” sessions remaining in their training.)

I confess that, as we repeated the same oath that – in various permutations –  thousands of other Americans serving in the military, diplomatic service, political office and other agencies of government have taken, I did tear up.  Being an American is a insoluble paradox for me.  I left the country partly because I am so tired of its politics, its materialism, its narcissistic patriotism, its inability to transcend its own mythos.  Yet it is America that brought me here, that sustains my work and the Peace Corps mission throughout the world, that continues to believe in “promoting peace and friendship” abroad through the voluntary service of over 200,000 of its citizens to date.  As the Ambassador to Moldova William H. Moser said in addressing our group, we are the most effective ambassadors of the American people in 137 countries around the world.

In searching for a YouTube video of my new site, Hîncești, I came across the following video.  Made, of course, by a Peace Corps volunteer.  Because I challenge you to search YouTube for a video made of ANY country in the last five years and not come up with one made by a PCV.  This is what we do.  We bring laughter, creativity, camraderie, esprit de corps, hope, friendship, diplomacy, and good will wherever we have been.  And we share it with the world.

Today, I am proud to be American.



So THIS is the Peace Corps

This is how it goes…Tuesday I find out that, in fact, my luggage and I will NOT be picked up at my current place of residence for transport by Peace Corps staff to my new site, which I have no clue how to get to and where I know not a soul (why in the world would I imagine that to be the case?)  In fact, I will be handed a piece of paper with contact information, a job description, and a welcome letter – all in Romanian – and told “Drum buna!” (Safe travels!) and expected to find my own way.

I am learning what is meant by the admonition: “Moldovans are not the best at strategic planning.”  Or any kind of planning, for that manner.  Things like directions, schedules, meeting times, and destinations are all very loose and ambiguous concepts for them.  Things will work out.  Or they won’t.  Que sera, sera (I wonder if they have a similar phrase?)  I found out quite by accident that the directions that were given to me by my LTI were incorrect and would’ve landed me at the wrong bus station in Chisinau this morning.

My agenda for the next couple of days: Find the correct bus to transport me from Stauceni to the Gara de Sud in Chisinau.  Tell the bus driver that I’m a dumb American who must be notified when I reach that destination.  Once at the south bus station, locate the trolly bus labeled “Hîncești,” find a seat and sit back for 35-45 minutes until the bus stops.  Disembark; look for someone who looks like she’s looking for me (my new Moldovan work partner.)  Hope that she is there.  Try to gather my rudimentary language skills together sufficiently to communicate my purpose for coming and enumerate the skills I will bring to her NGO’s endeavors (ha!)  Go find the apartment I will be sharing with a strange Moldovan woman for the next two years.  Work out cooking, bathing, laundering arrangements (again, all in another language.)

Go to my new office on Monday. Hope that I can find it. Meet a bunch of people who won’t understand me and whom I won’t understand.  Smile a lot.  Say “Dah,” (Yes) and nod like a bobble head for hours.  Try to appear as if I understand what’s being said and expected of me.   Go back to new apartment. Hope that I can find my way.  Eat what’s cooked for me (hopefully something is cooked for me…)  Collapse into exhausted sleep from the strain of trying to translate sense from the babble I’m swimming in.

Tuesday morning board the bus for Chisinau with my new work partner and travel to a conference that is supposed to teach us how to collaborate effectively, when we come from disparate cultures and I speak Romanian like a two-year old.  Smile a lot. Nod like a bobble head for more hours.  Spend the night in Chisinau at a hotel with communal showers (which I will be forced to utilize as it is 97 degrees here and I am running a constant river of sweat.)  Wednesday morning.  More training on how to work with Moldovan partners and ignore the abyss of cultural differences (like timeliness and clarity in directives) that yawns between us.

Go home to Nina.  Yea!  Strange that now it is her house that has become my haven…and that’s what gives me hope.  Not too long from now I am sure that I will be feeling the same way about a place and a group of people who are strange to me now.  Perhaps I will even come to love the abyss.  A very wise PCV advised me to “Just let the culture wash over you…”  Here’s to getting soaked.