I vividly remember the first moment I stepped foot in Moldova, the first breath I took of Moldovan air. It all seemed like a blur, gathering our luggage and driving through rolling hills to our lodging for the night. It’s been six months since my first night in Vadă Liu Vodă. Half a year. I’ve celebrated the Fourth of July, my birthday, Halloween, and Thanksgiving all in a country I hadn’t heard of just over a year ago. I’ve lived in two villages with two host families. What once seemed impossible, I learned Romanian over the course of 3 months and have since gained more fluency and the ability to actually teach in this foreign language. It’s hard to believe, but I feel more at home here than ever thought possible.
One common thread throughout my service has been laughter, mostly due to Romanian skills, or lack thereof. There is something so purely comical about two people trying to communicate through a language barrier, both trying their hardest, using every hand motion or sound possible. My first night in my training village involved me trying to explain the gift I had brought. This started a 45-minute experience that included calling the neighbor to translate and ended in a marriage proposal.
Since that day, there has been no shortage of laughter. One of my fondest memories has been with my host mom. As many of you know, I am not a morning person and without my morning coffee I am practically useless. This particular morning, I was sitting at the masa eating my hrisca (buckwheat) when my host mom (everyone just calls her Bunica which is Romanian for grandmother) sat next to me. She’s a feisty woman with a high-pitched voice and I was not in the mood to translate at 8 in the morning. She would speak, I would say the occasional da, and we moved on. After I finished, I began to leave and she said to me, “Amir where do you think you’re going? You just agreed to help me.” This is why you don’t just say da to everything.
She guided me to the yard where we keep all of the animals. There are geese, chickens, ducks, even some rabbits, all gathered in a fenced off area in the valley by my house. Bunica had disappeared so I bent down to play with Iulia, our dog. From the corner of my eye I saw something move. I turned to see a gaggle of geese flapping their wings, necks stretched forward, all charging directly at me, with my Bunica at the helm herding them my direction. The whole thing seemed happened in slow motion. As any city boy would do, I jumped about five feet into the air and ran screaming. Oh, did she think this was the funniest thing she had ever seen. Bunica was on the floor, clutching her chest she was laughing so hard. My heart pounding, I yelled, “What did you do that for!” Unbeknownst to me, I had agreed to catch one of those creatures so we could eat it for dinner.
Having properly prepared myself, I nodded to her so she could herd them my direction again. She began waving her broom and the birds came running and I grabbed one by the neck. Success! Bunica laughed, kissed me on both cheeks, and then took the bird to the chopping block. She wouldn’t let me watch the beheading, saying I would never eat it if I saw the brutality of the act. What can I say? She knows me.
I hold on to moments like this one for dear life because they are what get me through the rough times. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, how in one day you can go from pure ecstasy to existential crisis or vis versa all within the span of a few hours. I underestimated the difficulty of service. Before I left, I talked to many current PCVs and a few returned PCVs, each told me their story of how they struggled with different mental hurdles. I, naïvely, believed I was above that. But no one is immune to moments of doubt. We doubt that we are making difference. We doubt that the work we spend hours on each day is being appreciated. We doubt that anyone is noticing. I have experienced my fair share of doubt, but I have found my way of handling it and its by remember those highs of service, no matter how small.
A moment that has lifted me up for weeks was a simple encounter with a man in my village. I was walking to the magazin (convenient store) when a man stopped me from entering. He was sitting on a truck bed and I realized he was a double amputee. He started speaking in Russian and when he noticed I couldn’t understand, he had another man translate. He asked me why I was here. He wasn’t accusatory, simply curious. I told him about the Peace Corps and he stared at me in awe. After I was finished explaining my role in the community, he reached for my hand and said, “Thank you for coming to our country. Thank you for leaving your home to help us. I lost both of my legs to diabetes. These children need to learn about health and you will teach them. Thank you.” For weeks, I have soared with the help of his words.
These first six months have brought so many highs and lows, but that is to be expected of any service. In fact, I embrace them. I can feel myself getting stronger and growing as I learn how to climb out of those moments of doubt. Every day I learn something new about who I am and what I want in life. It feels as if I stepped off of that plane, blinked, and now I am 6 months in. Before I know it, I will be posting a year in review. I just hope I can enjoy and absorb every step along the way.