POSTCARDS FROM MOLDOVA: FINAL REFLECTIONS ON A PEACE CORPS EXPERIENCE
Note: Throughout the past year, Julia de la Torre ’98 has served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of Moldova, and has shared her experiences as part of an occasional series for news@haverford. This is her final article. To view other articles in this series, click on June 2004, August 2004, October 2004, January 2005, and March 2005.
The best way to experience a culture is to live among its people. For two years, I have lived among Moldovans in this tiny former Soviet republic between the Ukraine and Romania. From my many interactions with the people of Moldova, I have learned more about myself, my immediate surroundings, and the greater world. As I close up my time here, I must also close my series of articles for the Haverford online newsletter. To do so, I have chosen to share with you Postcards from Moldova, a selection of snapshots from my life here. Through these short “postcards,” I hope to bring the Moldovan culture alive for all those who read about it.
A Life’s Work
Baba Dunea is a 66-year-old woman living in Mereseni, my first host village in Moldova. At the age of 14, Dunea began her work knitting and creating laceworks for her friends and family. To visit her home is to visit a place more beautiful than any museum I have seen. Baba Dunea welcomes guests with a hearty bear hug, two kisses on the cheek, and a wink of her crystal blue eyes. She tells me that she has never needed glasses, despite the 12 hours a day she spends working with knitting needles. When asked if she takes breaks, she sweetly replies that she breaks only to milk the cow and pick the vegetables. As she teaches me how to work with the needles and yarn, she shares with me what she calls her greatest secret. “In life, you should only work in the area which gives you peace. If you don’t have peace, you will never find happiness.”
Sacrifice for Family
Nicolai drove me to a neighboring town so that I could catch my transportation home to Cahul. He is a friend of a friend who would rather drive me himself than make me take another form of public transport, lengthening my time on the road. As we drive, he tells me of the seven years he spent in France, laying down wood flooring in one of the biggest department stores in Paris. Before his work abroad, he had a cucumber business, canning the vegetables and then shipping them abroad to Moscow. After a bad crop one year, he had more debt than he could manage and needed to find a way to bring money in for his family. The only solution was to work abroad and to send money home. Upon arriving in France, he tells me, he had only 20 Francs in his pocket and was living in a trailer caravan with 2 other foreigners. After two weeks, he got his first job flooring a store. His other roommates would stay home drinking and smoking while he slowly but steadily received more and more jobs. He says that you can’t let other people determine your fate. You must avoid distraction and simply work and work—it’s the only thing that will create a better future for your family. After seven years in France, Nicolai is now back in Moldova with his wife and five children. He’s taking another crack at the cucumber business and hopes that this time, he can create a life that his children can be proud of.
One week after Easter, Moldovans flock to the cemeteries to celebrate Easter of the Dead. They visit the graves of loved ones and set up huge meals of food and drink on their graves, so as to celebrate with them instead of just in honor of them. My host mother goes to visit her mother’s grave every year and this year, is joined by a group of about 20 family members and friends. Together with them, I help set up our meal and light the candles in honor of Feodora. The crowd complains that there aren’t enough chairs for people to sit. They insist on going home to continue the celebration indoors. My host mother simply says, “It’s Easter. We can’t possibly leave mama here to celebrate alone. Family is family.” The crowd agrees and we all sit together, on our haunches, toasting to Feodora and sharing memories from her life.
The memories that I will carry home with me after I leave Moldova will be of the extraordinary people I have met here. Hardworking, generous, hopeful, and proud, Moldovans have taught me the meaning of work and the value of human connection. I hope that through this series of articles, you have also been able to learn a bit more about this small country and its people. Who knows? You may have even learned something new about yourself.