Volunteer Let Fate Choose Her Destination
Ever since I was a young kid, I have wanted to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. Just the idea of it was very intriguing to me: the adventure, languages, people and environment. I even rudely awakened my parents one night to tell them that I was going to live in Africa. I was about 12 years old, and I had been watching late night TV and saw a Peace Corps commercial. And so began my quest for adventure.
I really had no preference as to where I should go. I left it up to fate, which sent me to the Republic of Moldova in the former Soviet Union. WOW! I just could not imagine living there after all the hype of the Cold War. I knew deep down inside that this would be a passage into a new life for me.
The day I received the invitation to serve in Peace Corps came as a surprise. I knew I would be going to Eastern Europe, but I was thinking places like Poland and Hungary, not even knowing a country named Moldova existed. The placement officer called me at work to ask, “What about going to Moldova?” and I remember thinking, "Where in the heck is that?!" He mentioned it was between Romania and the Ukraine, so I ran off to a bookstore to look at a map. The next few days I spent anxiously awaiting the invitation and researching.
There was very little published on Moldova since it has only been an independent republic since 1991. I found out it was very small (about the size of Rhode Island) and that about four million people lived there. They spoke Russian and Romanian, they celebrated many holidays, they produced their own wine and sunflower oil, and there would be an abundance of vodka available. So as you can imagine, I was eager to go with this wealth of information under my belt. I ended up getting on a plane in Washington, D.C., and heading off with 63 other Americans for Moldova on June 3, 1998. Not sure what to really think of all this, I just keep telling myself it was the adventure of a lifetime and the toughest job I would ever love.
After the plane landed, our travel weary group got off the plane and onto the tarmac. Finally, we got inside the airport and had to deal with paperwork. Upon getting through that, we were greeted by a brightly clad group of Moldovans offering us wine and bread. The ceremony was very friendly and helped put us at ease. We were shipped off to our training site in a little town called Hincesti.
The first day we were assigned to our host families, who came and carted us off to their houses. I was exhausted, did not know the language and was not sure at all where the outhouse was! But the first night was fun playing “charades” with my new family. I showed them pictures, and they talked lots of Romanian and Russian at me, shouting as if I could understand better if they were yelling! The ensuing days held many new experiences with food and drink always attached. There was language training, along with cross cultural activities and technical aspects. Training lasted three months.
It was time to move on to another site, and I was sure it would never match up to my training site. I loved my family, and they could not imagine that I had to move away. As fate had it, I moved to a very small village still in the same region as my training site, only a bus ride away from my old host family.
This village, Stolniceni, was picture perfect. My first impressions were of cows walking along the dirt roads, hills covered in sunflowers, and little kids playing in the fields. I fell in love all over again. My family was even better than my first host family, and I grew very close. The first months were spent getting to know everyone, and I mean EVERYONE in the village.
I was “working” with the milk receiving station, but we did not even have a building or board of directors yet. I worked with the manager, my counterpart, and together we helped get the program up and running. The villagers would bring their three liters of milk into the Colectare de Laptelui everyday. Collectively we sold the milk to the dairy in Hincesti. It was an income development project for a village where the people had no cash flow. In some small way it actually helped, and the villagers liked it because they could come and socialize under the guise of work.
I will always remember the hospitality of Moldovans, and the way they made me feel a part of Moldova and its culture. The weddings and funerals, birthdays and christenings, holidays and harvests will live forever in my heart.
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