Life as a Peace Corps volunteer challenges a lot of notions we have about how life should be. One example: my best friend in Moldova for the past two years? She just turned 8 yesterday. A lot of other volunteers’ best friends in Moldova are also much younger or much older. In a lot of Moldovan villages and even larger towns, there aren’t a lot of younger adults, since many of them are working and living abroad. Since the majority of volunteers are in their 20s (though there are also others in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s!), this means that most of us have friends that are either kids or significantly older than us.
For many of us, some of our first friends at site are kids. Why? Kids don’t see the barriers that many adults might- they are open, friendly, and don’t care how well we speak their language. Play, whether tag or hide-and-seek, is an international language. Kids are also patient and naturally helpful. And so many of the first relationships volunteers develop with locals are with kids.
In my case, my best (and first) friend at site is my now-8-year-old host niece Valerica. She was six when we first met, on the day I moved to my village. She came to pick me up from the capital with my host mom (her grandma).
When we arrived in my village, she took my hand and said, “Let’s play!”. My host mom often tells others about how she was so nervous when I first moved in, saying “I thought she [me] would be so bored and lonely. And she only spoke a bit of Romanian! But Valerica just started playing with her, and it wasn’t a problem at all!”
She doesn’t live in my village, but visits during the school breaks and spent much of last summer here. She is cute, funny, smart, energetic, and loves to spend every minute with me. One of her favorite activities is to pretend to be a fotomodel or model and have me be her photographer. I usually indulge her.
I will miss her so much when I leave, but I hope she’s old enough that she will remember me. And I hope that someday she can come visit me in the United States!