Finding My Place in Moldova

Everyone said that the Peace Corps would change me, even if no one could know how.  I knew it was true, at least to a certain degree, as every life experience changes you.  I changed in high school, I changed when I joined the track team, I changed several times in college.  So, of course, I knew that I would change in the Peace Corps too.  I don’t really think you can start a new chapter of your life and not change at least a little.  But I am surprised how much I have already changed.  I don’t think it’s that I’ve “found” myself, or that I’m a totally different person, but I have certainly changed.  My life has changed too, in some ways drastically, though it doesn’t really seem that drastic to me right now.  I always thought that people who just up and changed their life (like I have) had changed their lives in a drastic way, that their lives must feel so different.  But I don’t really feel that way.

Sure, I squat over a hole to pee and poop, I bathe with a washcloth in a bucket that’s at best 2×3 feet.  I use one single bucket (maybe 2 gallons at most) to bathe.  I heat the water for that “bath” in a kettle, then add it to cold water until it’s just right.  I rely entirely on either my feet or rutieras (mini-buses) to get anywhere.  I speak 90% of the time in a language I didn’t know a word of just over 3 months ago.  I wash my hands at an outdoor “hand-washing station” which is just a glorified way of saying a plastic bucket that lets water out of the bottom.  I wear skirts or dresses 95% of the time.  I let my armpit hairs get way too long, and don’t even notice until it’s been about a week and I look down for a random reason and realize they’re a bit longer than I prefer.  I wash my hair, at best, every 2 days.  I often go two days without bathing, because it’s just too much work.  I can squat a good five minutes, which is five minutes more than I could before.  My clothes all get washed by hand, in a bucket, because there is no machine to do it for me.  They dry in the sun.  I spend hours each day just laying on my bed, doing nothing but listening to a local radio station and thinking about anything and everything or even nothing.  I make my bed every single day.  In order to drink water, I have to boil it, wait a couple hours for it to cool in the heat, then filter it.  I am dehydrated almost always because the process takes too long and I don’t have an additional container to store the filtered water in.  I’ve stopped caring that I step in chicken or geese or other bird scat that I haven’t yet identified every single day.  I’ve almost worn out the pair of good sandals that were brand new when I arrived here.  My leg hair is definitely long enough to notice, but most women here don’t seem to have clean-shaven legs, so I don’t even notice anymore.  Sometimes the power goes out for a while, and in those moments, I’m very happy to have my solar-charged lanterns, unless of course, they aren’t charged.  I don’t have a printer, so everything gets written by hand, as neatly as possible.  I’ve read more books in the one month I’ve been at site than I read in the entire year prior to that.  When I walk down the road, I might see a horse-drawn cart tied to a fence post (very loosely, I might add), or a nice car, or a car from the 60s, or a cart pulled by an engine that I’m assuming came from a tractor, though I don’t actually know, or a motorcycle that a friend has to run beside to get it rolling down the hill in order to get it to start, or a regular old bike.  I drink tea twice a day, with a good heap of fresh honey, and soup at least once every day.  I drink wine at least once a week, and though I can’t say I love it yet (especially the “black” wine, which is even darker than red), I don’t shudder anymore when I swallow it.  I’ve drank champagne and vodka (? Or whiskey? Or cognac? Still not sure.) with all of the other teachers and administrators out of a tea cup while sitting around tables set up in the school cafeteria.  I’ve made my way around a foreign city on my own, without a map or even data on my phone.  I’ve hitchhiked with my host mom in the back of a mini-van with the family of one of my students while sitting on my host mom’s lap, because they really didn’t have room for us but insisted that they had to give the American English teacher a ride.  I’ve survived two weeks without internet.  I’ve attended an Eastern Orthodox wedding and baptism.  I’ve lived with two families that aren’t my own.

Sure, all of these things are big, perhaps even drastic changes in my life.  But most of it feels pretty normal.  When I was in training, I would walk home after a long day, and when the big yellow wall along the road was in my view, the wall that meant I was “home”, well, I felt like I was home, not just arriving at some house that I happened to be staying in.  When I open the bright green gate here in Festelita and walk between the flower gardens to my front door, it feels, again, like home.  When I spent a night away from my home here to attend the baptism of my new host-niece, I was comfortable enough, but the next night, when I slept in “my” bed, it was the same as I’ve always felt coming home to my bed in my childhood home.  I’m still adjusting, I’m still figuring out things, I’m still going to experience my share of changes and new experiences and challenges.  But Moldova has already started feeling like home, in a way I hadn’t expected quite so soon.  And although I’m not really sure I could say in words how I’ve changed, I’ve certainly changed already.  As I look forward to the next two years, well, I’m sure I’ll change a lot more, but I’m excited (and, let’s be honest, nervous) to see what is waiting for me there and how those changes will manifest in me.