I left Moldova on the 25th of July. The last Moldovan from my village I saw was my host mom when I kissed her goodbye and we exchanged the traditional Moldovan “Be healthy, health and happiness to your family, may you get married soon and have many children, yadda, yadda, yadda.” My partner, Maia, also called me the night before I left and told me that she had learned a lot from working with me and that she hoped I would visit sometime and stay with her in the village.
The last Peace Corps volunteer I saw was my good friend and amazing PCV colleague Zach, who walked me to the front of the Peace Corps office at 4am where I grabbed my bags and called a cab to take me to the tiny Chisinau airport. Zach is extending and so will be in Moldova for another year acting as “Volunteer Leader,” a relatively new position created so that volunteers with two years of experience can assist more with administrative practices as well as continuing work with host country nationals. It was very strange to get into that cab alone and watch Zach shrink away in the dark, and I’m sure it was strange for him as well, being the only person in our group who will still be in Moldova after this summer is over.
The flights were good, but long. When I got off the plane in Detroit I couldn’t stop smiling. It was my first time on American soil in two years and all the signs were in English. The first guy at customs was amused by how excited I was to be home and smiled at me. The second guy didn’t really give a shit and told me to move it along when I asked him how his day was going.
In Seattle, my brother picked me up and drove me out to my parents’ house. My parents are currently on their boat in Alaska for the summer, so their house was empty. I spent the evening digging through the closets and the attic, going through all the clothes and shoes I hadn’t seen in two years. I took a long bath, had a glass of wine, and went to sleep in the giant guest bed upstairs in my parents’ house. It has a memory foam mattress and is enormous – quite a change from my house in Moldova. And there were no mice noises ALL night J
I spent the first day back getting a cell phone and a drivers license again. Then spent the last ten days jetting around in my mom’s car, meeting people I haven’t seen for two years, catching up, eating Indian food, cupcakes, smoothies, Taco Bell, and sandwiches. Lots and lots of sandwiches, Greek yogurt, and chocolate soy milk. I went to karaoke, had Mexican food, took a ferry, and walked around the lake in the park where I used to live.
American sizes are huge and I could usually only eat half the portion sizes that I know I used to. The smallest coffee available at Starbucks, which I used to drink two of a day, now sends me into nervous spasms, so I’ve had to switch to decaf for in indeterminate amount of time. I suspect that I still have some intestinal parasites left over from Moldova, but the doctors there took samples before I left and will contact me if I have to get follow ups here. If it is Giardia again, it has a short life cycle and I have almost no chance of being re-infected here, so it won’t be a problem for long.
The roads here are gorgeous, as are the parks. Everything is clearly marked and always clean. As I was strolling through the park with a friend the other day, he told me that there is a garbage strike going on in Seattle right now and it’s a real problem. I looked around me and saw not one cigarette butt out of place and marveled to myself.
No one covers their head when they go outside in the sun and no one has to work all day. The beers are dark and flavorful, there are always lots of choices for everything, and all customer service people are super, SUPER friendly. I love driving again (Peace Corps does not allow volunteers to operate motor vehicles of any kind, so I did not drive for the whole two years). I feel super in control when I can drive myself places and don’t have to hitchhike or wait for the bus by the side of a dirty road.
Once or twice someone has said something to me that I didn’t want to respond to, like a weird guy in a bar, and my Moldovan instincts kicked in and I just ignored them. But then after they repeated themselves several times I remembered that you can’t just ignore people you don’t want to talk to in America unless you want to be seen as a huge bitch. Also, I have almost cut in line like 14 times because Moldovans don’t use lines, they just crowd until they push up to the window. I always hated that, but now that everyone is patiently waiting in line it does seem pretty silly that we just stand there, powerless, when we could just walk up and get our business done sooner.
Everyone looks comfortable all the time. None of the girls are wearing heels – almost never! And yet they are going to work or out to the bar. Everything feels cheap – stuff at Safeway is always just 3 or 4 bucks. Then I think about converting it to Moldovan lei and it becomes overwhelmingly expensive so I had to stop doing that. Driving was all fun and games until I needed to fill up the tank with gas. 70 dollars for my dad’s Audi sedan. That’s 6 months wages for a teacher in the village in Moldova.
I expected the experience to be overwhelming in the sense that Americans have constantly at their disposal over 40 flavors of toothpaste or that everyone has a car and a bunch of money. When I wasn’t floored immediately upon returning, I thought I’d gotten off scot-free but it hit me a few days later, in the middle of the week. It wasn’t so much being overwhelmed to be back in the first world so much as it was the very scary realization and understanding that you can never go back to the life you had before Peace Corps. Everything looks different and in the two years that you’ve been gone, everyone has continued with their lives and you show up in the middle of this with no job, no car, nowhere to live and all you have to talk about it Moldovan stories that no one really thinks are funny, or inside jokes about Romanian that no one understands.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s been a wonderful week and I have loved catching up with people and I am very lucky to have so many friends that I can just pick back up with as if not a day has gone by since we last saw each other. But, as my aunt put it when we had lunch and caught up, it’s expected that you’ll come back and find that things have changed – this you come prepared for. It’s scary and daunting, though, when it hits you that nothing has actually changed – YOU have changed and everything is slightly skewed now because of it.
So now I’m on a plane to Alaska. My brother and I are going up to hop on my parents’ boat and I am going to work my way down with them as they come down the Western coast of Canada and back to the Seattle area around the last week of August. I’m looking forward to time spent with my parents again, time with my family all together for the first time in almost 3 years, and time to be still and reflect on the person I was, the person I have become, and how those two people can functionally coexist.
I want to thank everyone who has followed this blog over the course of two years. It has been an incredible journey – the best so far of my life – and there were days, especially in the beginning, at the hardest parts, when knowing that I had people cheering me on and waiting for updates here gave me the motivation to keep calm and carry on.
This blog will remain online and public for anyone who is interested in joining Peace Corps. If you are interested, please feel free to contact me any time and I would be happy to talk about it with you for as long as you want.
Lastly, I want to thank the Moldovans that I lived with, worked with, commuted with, argued with, complained with, ate and drank with, killed things with, and learned with for two years. Moldova is a truly wonderful country with an amazing cultural tradition of generosity, hard work and hard partying. I know that I created hard days for them sometimes, and they created hard days for me occasionally, but I think that this is what families do for one another and I do consider Moldova to be a second home and a second family.
Va doresc mult, mult, mult sănătatea pentru voi și că rămăniți o țara bogata, frumoasa, și naturala pentru todeaună. Știu că vom întilni dîn nou în viitor. Sper numai că înca pot să vorbesc în limbă romănă atunci! Draga și Sănătatea și toate cele bune!