Malta, Maldives, Madagascar. Yes please!
Moldova? Where is that?
Moldova is a country wedged between Ukraine and Romania. A country with a rough economic and political history. I went there expecting grey flat faces buildings and men and women dressed in black trench coat and fur caps. A thirteen hour bus ride from the small Ukrainian town where I’d stayed took me to Chisinau, Moldova’s capital and largest city. Following directions given by my Chisinau Couchsurfing host to go “left, left, bus # 9, two stops, exit and voila!” I was temporarily questing which ‘left’ to take when I found myself in then arms of a thirty year old woman with better English skills than I can sometimes manage. She and her parents were on a walk, heading to dinner downtown and something about the 60 liter black sack on my back caught their attention.
“Where do you go?” she asked. I never know if this term means the obvious “Where would you like to go?” or if the speaker is meaning to say “Where are you from?” Though more of a distant interpretation, the latter tends to be the most common of intents.
To her question, “Where do you go?” I replied “Americani. Go to friend’s house.”
Keeping it simple, I avoid using unnecessary words with non-native speakers whom I don’t know, finding less is often more and helps avoid confusion for the other party.
Her eyes lit up at my made-up word “Americani”
“Ah, Americani!” she replied, looking left and right to await approval on her parents’ faces. Immediately, they returned smiles in my direction and bridged any gap I’d been afraid would exist. She grabbed my arm and led me in the direction her and her family were aimed. She didn’t stop to ask where I needed to go and didn’t seem to notice that she’d turned me to face the opposite direction from where I’d been walking when we’d crossed paths.
No time for small talk, she promptly shared her journey toward English fluency and her family’s history. We walked arm in arm and her slight limp to one side bothered me not a bit, though her parents occasionally looked at me with sorry eyes as to say “Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
It was my pleasure to walk and talk. Well, it was more like walk and listen. I got to hear how she’d lived in Moldova her entire life and studied English in school. While her sister moved to New York to pursue a career in Law, she told me that she’d decided to stay in Chisinau to take care of her mother and father. They both nodded in agreement.
She told me she liked her country very much but liked America more and had plans to go to Los Angeles, to visit Hollywood, and to meet Julia Roberts. As her constant chatter filled my right ear, her father forced balance in my mind by softly telling of important buildings we were walking past from my left. Most were mom and pop shops already closed for the day, but he promised a return trip to the same street the next day would allow for unforgettable visits.
They were quite the pair, those three. Just like the young woman told me from the get go, it was clear she was taking care of her parents and had no problem in doing so. It was also clear they were taking care of her and had been every day of her life, as she was born with Down’s Syndrome and seemed to share with them her every movement, her every day.
Speaking with these three, we powered through language barriers, wrong directions and the slow-paced life found along the sidewalks of Moldova’s capital city. They welcomed me and introduced me to the small country which has yet to find a way to make its mark on the world. Still, communities are willing to give hand and foot in order to make the best of their lives. They’re dealing with a lot right now, politicians swindling money and hiding it in unknown investments, protestors camping out day and night, with numbers in the tens of thousands barely making headlines abroad. They live in conditions less than admirable despite working long hours and studying to receive Master’s and Doctorate degrees, and put family first and foremost.
Tourists typically find more excuses not to visit Modolva than to make the trip. There are more beautiful, more fascinating places in the world to visit, but it’s a rare place where you can find horses galloping through car laden traffic, find friends just from a wrong turn, and get hugs from strangers without yet learning their name.
The land itself is small, the attractions are few, but it’s a journey in and of itself – one that I’d promote so that you can learn something for yourself about a country so few know about. It’s not Malta, Maldives, Madagascar. It’s Moldova – it’s own sort of special.