The post below was written by my good friend Karen, after she came to visit Moldova (back in March). I feel very blessed that I have gotten to share my life and experience in Moldova with so many people from home, via this blog, email, skype and even with a few in person. Thank you to everyone who has made time over the last two years to engage in my experience in Moldova.
When Leah announced that she would be joining the Peace Corps back in the Spring of 2013, I did what any supportive friend might do – I made sincere and grandiose promises to come visit her in Moldova. For two years I hemmed and hawed about when I would actually come. With only a few months remaining in her service, I could stall no longer, so I made good on my promise. My experience in Moldova was absolutely fascinating and enriching and so different than I could ever have imagined. It was wonderful to experience a slice of what Leah’s life in Moldova has been like for the past two years.
We started off in the capital city of Chisinau. On my first night we crashed with some of Leah’s friends who had finished their Peace Corps service and stayed in Moldova to open an American-style barbecue restaurant. We shared some good barbecue before getting up early the next day to explore. We took a rutiera (like a mini bus/van thing) to the town of Orhei to go wine tasting at the famed Chateau Vartely. We enjoyed a detailed tour of the facilities which were nestled in a high ridge overlooking the city of Orhei. Then we spent hours in an ornate tasting room, methodically going through each wine and left with 8 full bottles of wine! That night we caught another rutiera to Balti, Leah’s home and the second biggest city.
I spent three wonderful days in Balti. We went horseback riding, had a pizza party with Leah’s high school interns, went to the mayor’s office, and ate at the Moldovan version of T.G.I. Fridays. I also met a lot of other Peace Corps volunteers. On my first day, Leah gave me a walking tour of the city. We explored large city parks, meandered through the central piazza, and perused the large outdoor market. The market was a very lively place, with booths and tents of people selling every good you can think of from fresh produce to electronics to used clothing. I enjoyed Balti because it wasn’t a tourist city in the slightest. I was particularly struck by the city’s stark Soviet-style architecture in which utility trumps aesthetics.Very few people spoke English in Balti so I relied entirely on Leah to translate (this was great until we went horseback riding and Leah told the guide in Romanian to make my horse gallop).
One of the highlights of my trip was a dinner with Leah’s friends in Balti. They had us over for a wonderful meal one night where we feasted on juicy and delicious pork, traditional mamaliga (a polenta-type dish), pickled home-grown tomatoes, homemade cheese and sour cream, and homemade wine. I was in heaven! I also tried the homemade liquor, raku, which was a little strong for my liking. Prior to my trip to Moldova, I was utterly ignorant about the sheer variety of foods that can have cheese, cabbage, and potatoes stuffed inside of them. Really – this is a revelation that Americans need to catch up on. It was wonderful to have a long leisurely dinner with such welcoming and friendly people. In fact, every one of Leah’s friends, co-workers, and acquaintances I met were so kind and welcoming to me. Prior to my trip, Leah had warned me that Moldovans don’t generally smile at strangers on the street or people they don’t know, which I thought would make people seem unwelcoming. But instead, genuine affection is reserved for friends and family. Not smiling proved to be unbelievably difficult for me. I tried very hard, but several times I caught myself walking down the street with a big fat, cheesy, American grin plastered across my face.
Now some of you might wonder whether the Peace Corps has changed Leah at all. My first thought as I watched Leah haggle at a taxi stand in easy and comfortable Romanian was damn!….who is this girl?! But let me tell you this: within an hour of being in Moldova, I was handed a shot of liquor and was playing a drinking game called stump. Additionally, in my short time there, Leah tried to set me up with a Moldovan man (before she realized he was married!). I even found Leah’s stash of “just in case” birthday cake candles in her kitchen that she is famous for having! In short….she is still the same old Leah!