I’m traveling north, visiting a friend in a small town, Larga, that’s only reachable via two rutieras (micro-buses) a day from Balti. I was told there was a bus from a larger town about ten miles from Larga, Briceni, to Larga at 12:30. I get to the bus station in Balti around 7a and wait until around 9a before I catch a rutiera to Briceni, but I’m finally on the way and I’ve got a seat. (Until you’ve riden on a rutiera, over Moldova’s road, for two hours, standing, you don’t appreciate what a rough ride is- trust me.)
I get out at Briceni, finally, realizing I’ve got an hour until the bus to Larga is coming. I call my friend – he says he’ll ask his host father about a ride to Briceni. He calls back, his host father’s car is filled with coal, as they say in Moldova – este normal (it’s normal, which is usually accompanied by a shrug).
My phone stops working mid-call and it won’t dial out. I’m pretty sure I’ve got money on it, but I go to the kiosk and buy a card to add money. Weird, the phone won’t even let me add the money.
I’m standing by this kiosk across from the bus station in Birceni, trying to get my phone working as a cabbie approaches me. I can’t remember if he’s the one I spoke to earlier – it’s already been a long day and its not even noon.
He asks if I’m from Romania. No, I’m an American. He asks where I’m headed and offers a ride – for a moment I’m so joyful at this generosity – then I remember he’s a cabbie – he’s not offering a free ride.
I ask the cost, 120 lei he says. Very expensive, I respond, I’ll wait for the bus. Another cabbie, who’s been standing a few feet away listening decides to join our conversation here – That’s only ten dollars, the second cabbie says, with a slight sneer.
Yes, I say, but I work in Moldova, my salary is in lei, not dollars. Understand?
The second cabbie, gives me an apprasing look and nods. He walks away. I move over to the steps to wait and re-pack my backpack – earlier my water bottle broke in it – leaving all my papers soaked.
My new friend, the first cabbie comes over. Where in Moldova do you work? Balti, I say, for a non-governmental organization working with the elderly (the term ONG, the romanian for NGO, either isn’t a great translation or people are just unfamiliar with the term, because generally it doesn’t garner understanding).
Wait, I say and I pull out one of my organization’s leaflets from my bag. I hand it to him and he jokes with his friend, another cabbie whos sauntered over, that his friend needs these services for the elderly.
Where’s your boy? the first cabbie asks. (It’s normal here to ask about this early in a conversation with a stranger.) Larga, I say.
Why are you going to him? he asks. I want to respond, honesty I’m thinking the same thing – at this point of the day – exhausted and trying to figure the schedule out, but instead I say, we’re equals, sometimes he comes to Balti, sometimes I go to Larga.
After a few more words, he wanders off and I move across the way to see about the 12:30 bus. It doesn’t run on the weekends I’m told. Wonderful, I think, now I’ve waited an hour for a bus that isn’t coming. So either I can walk, which will be hard because I’ve never been and I don’t know which way to go or I can take an expensive taxi ride or hitch-hike. I grab my notebook – write LARGA in all caps on a piece of paper and move to the edge of the station, holding my notebook above my head, a la Sally Ride.
I’m standing on the side of the road and I get a few head shakes and odd looks from people, I’m starting to wonder if I spelled Larga right and if this is a terrible idea, but then a man with a five or six-year-old son stops.
He’s saying something about Larga, that he’s not going there, but he’ll take me closer and I’m not entirely clear, but he’s nice and I’m rolling with it. He takes me outside of town to the road that leads to Larga. After he drops me off, he turns around, I realize he’s simply driven me there, he wasn’t even going there. I wish I had a moment to bask in this stranger’s kindness, but there are few cars going by here and I hold my sign again.
After ten minutes or so, a young man and his mother stop and pick me up. They deliver me to the Lukoil in Larga, where my friend awaits. I’ve made it and now I can bask in the journey – reminded yet again of the beauty of unexpected moments, the kindness of strangers and realize that I have yet to speak to anyone in person today in english.