Part 1: Staging
When I first arrived in Philadelphia for staging, I had about nine million things running through my mind. Are any of these people in the airport PC people? How am I going to carry all of my bags when I needed my dad to help me get them to the ticket counter? If I tell the cab driver to take me to the best Philly cheesesteak, will he? I fought the urge to ask that last question and instead found the hotel. I spent my free time before check in wandering the Drexel Medical Campus, taking in some of Philly’s sites, and yes, eating a pretty amazing Philly cheesesteak. Soon, the hotel lobby became a holding zone for all of the PC Moldova future volunteers. With volunteers comes their luggage. It looked like an REI catalogue had vomited all over the carpet. We were assigned our rooms and met for a quick “Welcome to Staging” presentation and then were let loose for the night.
The next day we started the official staging process, dressed in our finest business casual. Staging seemed a bit redundant, echoing what we read in the Pre-Service Training Handbook. It focused on Peace Corps general rules and topics related to their mission. That being said, it was the first time we were all together as Peace Corps Moldova trainees. (Quick side note: We are currently called “trainees.” We do not receive the title of “volunteer” until after we are sworn in on August 17th.) The whole day felt like a blur. Before I knew it, we were on a bus to JFK the next morning with all 100 lbs. of our baggage in tow.
Part 2: The Journey
Before you read any further, do me a favor. Go to Spotify, or Youtube, or whatever music browser you prefer. Search for “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap. Now put on your best headphones and hit play. For reasons I cannot understand, this song has been my travel soundtrack since it first graced my ears. I had it on repeat as I flew from JFK to Vienna to Moldova.* I had it playing when we flew over the Atlantic. I had it playing when we flew over the Swiss Alps. I had it playing when I first stepped foot on Moldovan soil. As we drove to our secret hotel outside Chisinau, I fought my sleep deprivation and watched the rolling hills and small villages pass by. I saw blue roofed churches and well worked gardens overflowing with cherry trees and strawberry vines. I was taken aback by frumusetea Moldovei (Moldova’s beauty).
*I’m leaving out the fun details of the flights. Just know little sleep occurred and much coffee was consumed.
Part 3: Week Zero
The hotel we were staying at was the height of luxury. If you watched my previous vlog, you saw my room. I had a private bathroom, a private bedroom, AIR CONDITIONING (!!!!). Needless to say, PC Moldova was putting its best foot forward. The five days that followed came to be known as Week Zero, the week before our real training began. Don’t let the name fool you, much training occurred during those five days. For example, we started our Romanian lessons on day one! But I don’t want to spend the rest of this post telling you every detail of what we did and what we learned. Know that we spent time learning some rudimentary Romanian, going over the basics of PC Moldova, and listening to PC staff inform us about our new home. Instead I want to highlight moments from the training that encapsulated the experience.
The first moment was the warm welcome we felt from the Moldovans. Our first morning, we were welcomed with traditional bread and wine (not really, it was juice. No vin during training!). The next night, we were treated to a cultural dinner and a show! A dance troupe filled with men and women of all ages demonstrated traditional songs and dances all while wearing traditional garb. Until this point, I was unsure if Moldova was right for me. But the joy that was emulating from these performers and the warmth they projected onto us was contagious. I began to see what I was going to experience for the next two years and it truly warmed my heart.
This one is actually a collection of a few moments. When we didn’t have anything scheduled, we were free to hang out and get to know our fellow volunteers. Every second I spent with these amazing people was unreal. I felt a connection to each and every one of them. I could tell I had found some really amazing friends. That being said, it also made me miss the people I left at home. My parents, my friends. I got to facetime with a few people and seeing their faces filled me with joy, but then I would end the call and realize I was sitting in the conference room of my Moldovan hotel. I’m lucky, though. I know that in two years I will come back to the US and these connections will not have dissipated. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, isn’t that what they always say?
Quickly, I want to speak about a special moment during one of our lessons. We had an amazing talk from a current volunteer in which we discussed the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “The Danger of the Single Story”. If you have not watched this talk I highly recommend it. The conversation that followed was short, but it opened my eyes to what we as volunteers were doing in Moldova. We are fighting the “Single Story” of what it means to be an American and at the same time creating one.
And the last moment was our departure to our host families. For this part, I want you to go back to whatever music device you were using and find some good ol’ Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On.” Not because I love her, which I do, but rather because this is what was blasting from our rutiera (bus) as we hurried our way to our new town. Our driver seemed to know exactly how fast he needed to speed as he swerved past cars, barely missing oncoming traffic. Our luggage was piled into the back of the van, swaying with the momentum. I was feeling every emotion under the sun. I was excited for the true adventure to begin. I was terrified of meeting my new host family. None of these were new, just multiplied and all at once. We pulled into our village and saw dozens of eyes peering through the windows, trying to see americani din Corpul Pacii (the Americans from the Peace Corps).
We unloaded the bus and they called out our names one by one. When it was my turn, a short, older woman raised her hand. Mama Maria. She smiled and I could see the kindness in her eyes. She helped me grab my luggage and she walked me to the house, which was conveniently located directly across the street from our drop off location. We carried our bags into the house and shut the door behind us. Welcome home.