Birthday Surprises

“There are two great days in a person’s life: the day we are born and the day we discover why.”
– William Barclay

When the years are counted, they only add up to twenty-seven. Some may say this is hardly enough time to determine the meaning of life, and while I agree, I do think I have some inklings about the nature of this big secret and its plan for me. I know that I feel the most alive when I see positive change that I have affected. That’s what I feel I am doing here in Moldova, even though some days it seems like I’m not making any change at all. I am starting to see the advancements my students are making. I look on the wholesome influence my clubs are just starting to have as they build up in curious participants and number. I witness the change in demeanor when people find out I am from America, and then I see it again when I prove the negative stereotypes they hold about my country wrong.

This post is coming over a month past my birthday, which just goes to show how busy settling into a new country and job can be! My birthday came on a Saturday this year, which hasn’t happened in a few years now. It was a mostly quiet day. Oz and I went to the market and purchased a few items, and then came home. Oz had bought me a beautiful little cake from Linella, which is a more upscale, modern grocery store in town that we try to avoid whenever possible because of the heftier price tags they carry in comparison to the market. We didn’t have candles and debated using q-tips instead, but decided to just go without in the end.

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Before eating the cake, we were stopped by our neighbor Steven, who invited us over to have some of his wine and grape juice. Harvest season was in full swing here in Moldova, and he was very proud of this year’s batch. Oz and I put down our things and came over with an empty water bottle, as instructed 🙂

We ended up staying over at the house for at least a couple of hours, chatting with Steven, his friends, and eventually his daughter Zina who had come home. Zina is a student of mine, from the eleventh grade. While Steven showed Oz how the wine-making process worked, Zina gave me a tour of their lovely property.

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Most of the grapes had already been picked and sent into a machine which did the “stomping” for them. A large container held the remains of skins, which perfumed the area with a pleasantly sweet, earthy smell.

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One of their dogs (not the one pictured above), had had a couple of puppies. We got to hold them for a bit, but were asked to put them back by Steven, who insisted that we would ruin the male puppy’s temperament by caressing and holding him too much. The “American” act of treating pets as family is looked upon very strangely here. When people find out that we’ve brought our cats with us from America, we get some very interesting (and sometimes downright perplexed) looks.

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As is tradition, we were shown the house and cellar. Both were very nice, but the cellar was especially remarkable. Zina had been canning in preparation for winter since June (as her sister and mother are out of country), and she had quite an impressive reserve to show for it! It definitely put our little stockpile to shame, for sure 🙂 In the back of the cellar were large barrels that held the wine Steven had made.

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Things did become a little awkward when politics were brought up, which is a common occurrence here. Everyone wants to know why we are here, why we are interested in this country, and they seem to be a little disappointed when they found out it’s for education, travel, mutual understanding, and hopefully positive change. I am asked by strangers and students alike about my political views.

I tell them that I don’t follow the news, and they look at me like I’m insane. There are just so many awful things that happen in the world, and in the U.S. we are protected from many of those things, and sometimes – honestly – it’s better to be aware of them without video attachments. It’s just so depressing to actually see the horrors and know that very often, there isn’t much we can do about it. Not to mention, every news outlet has its own agenda that shapes the news. It’s untrustworthy, and I’ve always been fearful of committing the greater sin of believing in lies. I think that, often, us news-watchers may be privy to a news station’s opinion about a matter, but we don’t have the full story (and can’t get it unless we are living near it). There’s too much “telephone game” action going on.

I’ve realized while being here that maybe this does make me ignorant, but I think that if given the chance, a lot of people would love to be as unawares as I am. Also, while I have voted at home, I don’t think it carries as much influence as a vote here would. Steven asked if I voted for Obama, and I told him truthfully that I did. He then ranted for a bit about how the Obama administration is harming his country by coercing them to become part of the E.U. According to Steven, this would mean he wouldn’t be able to sell his wine and crops, and he would have to pay for land that he owns. What I gathered from that is a fear of taxes, which may not be present at this time. I assured him of my understanding that if Moldova did become part of the E.U., no one would take his land from him and he could still sell whatever he wanted, and if he got taxed, then that would only mean good things – like more opportunities for Zina and him, better jobs so his wife could work here, and heck – roads without crater-sized potholes!

My words fell on deaf ears as Zina shook her head and said, “Yes, I’ve been telling him.” Her father sniffed and implored that, “Russia is LIFE!” And you know what? I get it. I totally do, and I’m not offended in the slightest when my neighbor or anyone else bashes my country. Why? Because that’s what my country stands for – the right to dislike and disagree with those in power. Maybe it’s a good thing that Oz and I aren’t heavily into politics, otherwise we might be going crazy right about now. I understand the history that Moldova, especially this corner of it, has with Russia. It’s not surprising to me that I was accosted while buying a coat the other day. Yes, that happened – “Do you like your president? He’s an idiot! Putin – now THAT’S a man!”

A good chunk of Moldova’s population goes to Russia for work, so of course many see it as a giving hand that provides. Books are donated to the lyceum with stamps that proclaim Russia’s love for them. The older generation lived in an era where they once were part of Russia! What has America or the E.U. done for them? As these feelings become more apparent to me, I am realizing more and more why I was sent here, to Gagauzia, to Ceadir-Lunga. It’s not to convince anyone that America/E.U. is better, it’s to convince people that while we’re not the best, we’re also not bad. And you know what? Russia’s not bad either. Yes, there are matters that our countries disagree on and that we are working out, but that doesn’t mean that we hate them. It’s like two friends who fight sometimes, but when all’s said they both still want friendship, they still want peace. Should the two friends’ squabble affect the whole playground? Only when other kids can get hurt. Until then, sometimes it may be better to just observe the disagreement and continue to be pals with those around you.

 

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2 thoughts on “Birthday Surprises

  1. not sure if my comment posted…important to me so i’ll repeat…during the cold war my mom who was otherwise prejudiced toward both other religions and races, was very clear when she told me that it was not the RUSSIAN PEOPLE who were our enemy…it was their government…she was VERY clear that the Russian PEOPLE were just like us…just trying to make it through life the best we could…that thought has followed me throughout the years as something really good–my mother taught me…

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