Moldova, the country stuck in between communism and democracy, in between East and West, in between Romanian and Russian. I was lucky enough to visit this Peace Corps country these past few days. A friend and fellow volunteer that I met during the TTT conference, Theresa, invited me to Moldova to meet with the GLOW directors there and talk about the successes we have had in Romania with the program.
After my seven hour train ride from Ilva Mica to Iasi I hopped on a maxi-taxi that was headed straight for Chișinau. We entered into the country of Moldova about an hour into our drive and the only thing I noticed that was different was the age of the cars. The first handful of cars I saw after the border looked like they were taken out of the 1970’s and 80’s. During the entire ride toward the capitol, I saw mainly old, but still running cars. A short while after, I found myself in Chișinau, a big-little, not as communist looking as I had expected, city. I met up with Theresa and the first place we headed to was the PC office. It was really cool seeing how their office differs from ours in Romania. Theirs is much larger and has a much larger staff to accommodate over 3 times more volunteers. The set up of the office is pretty cool. All the volunteers have their own little lockers and the building as a whole looks a lot newer than ours but I do still prefer our volunteer lounge over theirs.
After spending a few hours in the capital and having a very tasty Greek lunch with some locally brewed Chisinau beer, we headed to the autogara to catch the bus to Theresa’s village. Shortly after we got on the bus, we were informed by the bus driver that all of the “younger” riders had to get off and wait to be picked up after the bus had left the station. I was really confused by this and Theresa explained that, to make more money in pocket, the bus drivers try to leave the station with as few people as possible because they are charged a per person fee. After picking up the bus on a remote street in the middle of the Chișinau piața, we headed off on a very interesting 1.5 hour bus ride to Fîrlădeni. I’ve always thought the roads in Romania, especially southern Romania were bad but they are amazing compared to what we drove on. The main logistical issue with Moldova is that other than the capitol, there are only two cities which means there really isn’t a need for highways so therefore most of the roads are small country roads that are filled with so many potholes one could easily mix a shake and bake chicken by just placing the bag on the seat. An hour into the ride, we turned off the “main road” and headed onto a gravel/dirt mix road that led us into the quaint town of Fîrlădeni.
Fîrlădeni is a small village with one paved road that is on the border with the rouge state of Transnistria which we unfortunately couldn’t go into unless we wanted to be kicked out of Peace Corps. I did however get a chance to walk to the border and see the crossing with some of the tanks on the Transnistrian side. The remnants of the Russian occupation in Fîrlădeni are still visible in the huge, half built, eye sore at the top of the hill that was supposed to be a high school but was never finished after the Soviet occupation. The town is very quaint and Theresa’s host family is absolutely wonderful. They are a half Moldovan half Russian, young family with 1 boy who is attending high school in Romania and two small girls, 9 and 2 who are both blonde haired and blue eyed just like their mother. I got along very well with Arina, the 2 year old girl, even though it took her a whole day to finally talk to me because she was so shy.
The day we spent in the village was packed with a very busy schedule. On October 5th, the country celebrates Ziua Profesorului “Teacher’s Day” and naturally, there were no “real” classes. Theresa’s village celebrated it in a big fashion. First thing in the morning we headed to the primary school where grades 1-4 are located and the 4th graders put on a wonderful musical program for the entire school. To add to this day, the graduating seniors also came to the primary school to relieve the teachers of their classes and taught the classes instead. I was told this was quite hilarious and the older students left the classroom with much more respect for what their teachers have to go through every day. After the event at the primary school, all the teachers headed over to the “high school” which houses grades 5-12. Since high schools in Moldova do not have specific profiles, a small village like this one is able to have a high school and, like I said earlier, since there aren’t many cities in the country, almost all villages do in fact have high schools with just one or maybe two classes in each grade. The high school seniors and 5th graders also put on an event for all of the teachers of the town and then we were all invited to a masa (meal) in one of the classrooms to continue the celebration of teacher’s day. At the meal I not only got to know some of Theresa’s colleagues, but also got to see the typical Moldovan spread for a meal. It was so interesting to see an equal mix of Romanian and Russian food. There were stuffed peppers, smoked meats and cheeses, chicken, potatoes, various salads, crab, fish, caviar, and flaky cheese strudel pastries similar to Serbian pitas that tasted amazing.
Later on in the day, we headed for a walk around the village and ended up at Theresa’s host aunt/old counterpart’s house for yet another masa. It was very fun getting to know Oxana. She is a wonderful woman who is a nurse at the primary school. I got to know more about her and her life and she told us some hysterical stories about growing up in the village as well as life in the rouge state. Since there really aren’t any businesses in Fîrlădeni, most of its inhabitants head into Transnistria to buy/sell things or even to work. She told us how it is a very beautiful and peaceful area and suggested that we go across the border one day when we won’t have our jobs at stake. A few glasses of beer later, we bid Oxana adieu and headed back to the house to get ready for our 5am wakeup that was to start our trip back towards the capitol.
We set the alarm to go off at 5:15 so we could have plenty of time to catch the 6am bus headed towards the capitol. Lucky for me, I got drunk dialed by a friend from my town at 5:30 which woke us up since our alarm did not go off. We quickly got ready and then hustled over to the shabby hole in the wall bus station. Our bus rumbled to the station and we hurriedly got on to escape the cold. The ride was fairly standard except for about an hour in, I open my eyes and see two little puppies running around the floor of the bus and slipping and sliding in their own feces. The bus driver quickly pulled over, pulled out a bucket and wet rag out of some unbeknown place to me and made the rider, who is one of Theresa’s students, clean up his dogs’ droppings and take them outside to finish their business.
We spent the late morning in the PC office hanging out and talking GLOW. My original purpose of going to Moldova was to attend the GLOW Directors’ meeting that was to take place that day. We did get a lot of work done and the Moldova GLOW girls are really amped on getting their program back up off the ground. After the meeting and getting to know what felt like a million PCVs that were in town that weekend, we decided to head over to wine fest for the day. The national celebration of wine was held the weekend of the 5th-7th of October. If you are not aware, Moldovans LOVE their wine and most of them make it at home. Wine fest was held at the expo center and was a very large piece of land lined with at least 30 booths on each side of a grand walkway. The booths were grouped by region and in the middle of it all was a very large food tent with vendors and a performance stage. We got to sample many of the different wines and have an overall great time together.
Sunday morning, after waking up before dawn, I headed on my way back to Iasi. I finally arrived home after a 10 hour trip that actually took 16 due to some missed trains and buses not wanting to leave on time because I was the only passenger. Exhausted and starving, I passed out as soon as I got home, not wanting to start the next school week since I hadn’t prepared anything for Monday.