duminica (Sunday) June 9 2013
If you had tried to tell Flat Stanley that one could be awake for 27 consecutive hours, and that those hours would include only two or three incidents of fitful dozing, and that they would include, during the last 10 hours, classes where you were given crucial information while sitting in uncomfortable chairs in a theatre-style classroom, and that this could all be successfully accomplished— Flat Stanley would not have believed you.
And yet. The 27 hours concluded with being bussed to our hosts’ homes in a small bus/van stuffed with luggage crammed in without order, so that we (all women, all in dresses or dress clothes) had to clamber over seats to excavate suitcases (50-60 pounds each), then disembark onto narrow streets in strange neighborhoods where every square inch of yard is dedicated to flowers, fruits and vegetables, where every home is closed in by an imposing fence and guarded by two or three ferociously barking dogs, and where host families speak Russian or Romanian or both, and a rare few know a little—very little English.
The village of Stauceni (STOW-CHEN, rhymes with cow-chen) is an upscale village, and Flat Stanley’s host is about middle class. This means that we have running water and that we can probably drink the water without problem, though we are advised not to. FS’s host mother is a 65 year old woman, Galina, (her birthday was June 6). Her younger sister Paulina lives here too, and together they are renovating the house.
They do not run down to Home Depot or Loews for supplies. Houses here are built block by block by the family without aid of power tools. The blocks are of a crumbly sandstone material mixed by hand. If there were to be an earthquake, FS thinks the entire country would collapse into rubble. The kitchen is an efficiency, with an old-fashioned tiny gas stove, tiny sink, tiny cupboards, tiny counter space, tiny table tucked in corner, tiny four-legged stools on which to sit. We eat food from the garden and everything is drenched in butter or oil made from sunflower seeds. The butter and oil taste strange and FS is probably losing weight while adjusting to the strange flavors.
FS walks to language classes every morning except Sunday. It is about a half or ¾ mile walk along narrow, rutted streets where manhole covers are missing (stolen for the metal), goat droppings lay randomly scattered, a car or three careers at crazy speeds while fog lifts from the vineyards down below and across a narrow valley and every dog warns you to not mess with the property. It is uphill both ways, seriously, because the street crosses down into the valley and back out again to get to class. The wild dogs are generally well-trained enough to leave people alone. Then we board local bus #190 (called a rutiera) to travel to the Peace Corps training site in Chisinau (Kee-See-Now), then back home again.
You know those scenes you see of busses crammed with people and chickens sticking out the windows? We don’t have anything hanging out the windows because Moldovan culture believes that air from a window brings ill health. No animals on the busses here, not sure about elsewhere, and we are happy happy happy that the rutieras have roof vents that are kept open. Jammed busses are prime spots to be pick-pocketed, so our guide warns us loudly in English to BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS once we have boarded.
This coming week we get to do this without our guide. Oh boy.
There is so much new that FS does not know how to convey this experience. FS will say that seeing scenes in a book or a movie is not the same as being part of the scenery. Outlying villages are much poorer than Stauceni and if assigned to one, it is probable that FS will stay with the host family there during the entire service. Here’s why: In smaller villages, families eat from the garden because there are no stores. For a person to live on their own, they would have to grow their own food for the year (and learn how to preserve their vegetables) and manage all the other tasks that come with living without conveniences we in the US take for granted. This would leave little or no time to work on our assigned projects.
Today FS has the house to herself so will indulge in a bucket bath. She’s been taking spit baths all week because she didn’t know how to manage either the bathroom or to ask how. Got to study, study, study the Romanian and FS is already much more accomplished than she thought possible in this time.
Last thing: Is FS homesick? Well, along with several fellow “voluntari in Corpul Pacii, consultant comunitari” (Peace Corps volunteers, community consultants) we ask ourselves first thing each morning, last thing each night, and several times in between just why we did this, And then we each remember, this is what we signed up for—that opportunity to be dumped into something so strange and so new we could not imagine—and the privilege to have the safety net of the Peace Corps providing structure and purpose while we figure things out, And when that's too abstract, FS says, "Hey! FS is gonna be conversant in Romanian!"