It has officially been one month since I ended my Peace Corps Service, but not an hour goes by where I don’t think about Moldova. In reflecting back on this time, I often think of moments during my service. During my Close of Service Conference we had a session titled, “Moment of Impact,” during which we had the opportunity to share a story, a memory, a person, or something else with the other members of our Peace Corps group. Here are some of my moments and people of impact, and some stories that maybe I’ve missed in my blog over my last two years cataloging my service .
1. Happy to meet an American in my lifetime.
This is a story from early in my service. I had been at site (living in Balti) for about two weeks. I had left the office for a half hour to go run some errands in the early afternoon (around 2pm) and returned to find my co-worker sitting with a couple of the nurses. (At our NGO, we had nurses in many rural communities who came into the office regularly to check in.)
The nurses had brought with them placinta and congac, I think to celebrate me being in the office, but it may just have been to celebrate it being a Tuesday (or whatever day of the week it was; in Moldova its not uncommon to simply decide to have a small celebration). When I arrived they were already a few shots deep and immediately offered me one. Initially my reaction was, ‘wait are they finishing that bottle at 2:30pm, at work?’ Followed quickly by, ‘do I really have to do shots of congac, again?’ (Congac is the drink of choice in Moldova and shots of cheap congac are awful.)
My desire to be included and polite beat out my distaste for congac and I joined them. Luckily another co-worker who speaks perfect english, also decided to join us. (With my romanian at that point I couldn’t follow along with how quickly they were speaking; and also the nurses were from a village so they were speaking Moldovaneste – which is to say a blend of Russian and Romanian, and a village dialect.)
The nurses started asking me rapid fire questions about my life, background and America – as we proceeded to finish the bottle of congac between the five of us. At this point one of the nurses turned to me and started telling me a story about her father. What she said, I will always remember:
My father served in WWII with Americans, fighting the Germans and he told me that Americans are the most intelligent, kind and have the best sense of humor of anyone in the world. I am so happy to meet an American in my life.
2. Salut, Balti has taught me that this is not true.
Salut, Balti is a municipality wide volunteering initiative (that I then helped to take nation-wide) that I started in Balti and have written about here, here and here. On the last day of our first round of trainings, we asked each youth to share with us what they learned, what surprised them, what was their favorite moment of the training.
During this share, we had one boy, a romanian speaker (there is some tension in Balti at times between romanian and russian speakers) who told us that when he first started coming to the trainings, his school mates told him not to go because this was sponsored by the Russian, Communist Balti Mayor’s office. He told us after his friends had seen the photos from it, they were jealous they didn’t get to attend.
This boy, Ion, went on to do an amazing project and later to become part of the first round of alumni to become leadership team and lead the training for other youth in the community. After he finished his first volunteer project, with his team, after the Salut training, he said to me:
I used to think that in order to make change you needed money and in order to make big change you needed bigger money. Salut, Balti has shown me that this is not true.
3. I wouldn’t still be in Moldova if it wasn’t for you.
For my 26th birthday, three of my Moldovan friends, Catia, Igor and Natasha, surprised me with a ‘Moldovan dictionary.’ They made me a beautiful book with traditional Moldovan pattern on the front and inside the book was a lot of ‘Moldovan words,’ for example some of the traditional foods in Romanian and a few other words.
The best part of this beautiful book was the notes that they each wrote in the book. The most special one was from Igor. Igor was my first intern and one of my friend friends when I came to Balti. He and I spent countless hours together during his senior year of high school, as co-workers and then later as friends. During this time together we not only worked, but we talked about everything – life, love, Moldova, the US, politics, religion and his plans for the future etc.
During these conversations we often came back to the massive departure of young, educated Moldovans for the west or east – in search of better jobs, education and lives. In speaking with Igor I tried to be as honest as possible with my opinions and attempt to mentor him, help him develop and plan for his future. Whenever we discussed people leaving Moldova and the current status of Moldova, I expressed my strong sentiment that more of the smart, motivated youth of Moldova needed to stay in or return to Moldova and work to make their country better if there is ever going to be a change.
After Igor graduated High School, he decided to go to Chisinau, staying in Moldova, for University and got a job working as the Marketing Director of Smokehouse BBQ. While he asked me not to share the note he wrote to me, it made me cry and in it he said he would not still be in Moldova if it weren’t for my influence.
Knowing that I had impacted his life, a boy whose intelligence, drive and ingenuity I have an incredible amount of respect for – was a huge moment for me. It isn’t something that fits onto my resume, but it is one of the largest accomplishments of my service.
4. I will chop them up and send them back to Peace Corps.
When you’re working with children its hard to sometimes not have favorites. During my time in Moldova, I did a lot of work with children, meaning I had a lot of favorites, or youth who I will never forget. My youngest intern during my time in Moldova started interning when she was 12. She came to me when her mom wanted her to get more involved in volunteering and her mom knew my co-worker.
I worked with her for over a year, training her on project management, leadership, volunteering and enjoying watching her grown over this time. She’s very sassy, funny and spoke little english and didn’t really like speaking Romanian (although she could), so our conversations were usually pretty hilarious. But one conversation in particular comes to mind as a moment.
This conversation occurred with myself, Alina (my 12 year old intern) and Corina (another intern) while walking to the center for an activity.
Corina: When do you leave?
Leah: Well I will leave at the beginning of July.
Alina: Wait, where will you go in July?
Leah: Home. I will go to the US.
Leah: Well, its my time. I was here for two years and my contract will end.
Corina & Alina: We will be sad, we will miss you (and such sentiments)
Leah: Well don’t worry another Peace Corps Volunteer will come. You can practice english with them and you might even like them better.
Corina: A new volunteer for CASMED?
Alina: No, I don’t want a different volunteer.
Leah: Well, it will be nice, you can meet someone new.
Alina: No. I will cut the new volunteer up and mail them back to Peace Corps and ask for you back.
Note: While this sounds creepy if you had met Alina, you would understand how cute/funny this is.