Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weekend in the Big City

After three weeks at site, many of the volunteers headed into Chisinau for a few days of birthday parties and meetings last weekend.  Being amongst the September babies, I wasn’t about to be left out.  I’d negotiated a compact teaching schedule – all my classes Tuesday and Wednesday – just to facilitate occasions like this, and the rough bus schedule I’m confined to in my village.

So, Friday morning, well before the sun was even hinting at being up, I set out with my host father to negotiate our muddy road in the dark.  He packed two large bags of fresh homegrown fruit onto the bus for his daughter and niece in the city, and then said his goodbye to return home as the bus rumbled out of town into the first rays of the morning’s light.  A full-sized bus leaving crawling at snail’s pace along a dirt road out of a village of just 3,000 is one of those things that would have seemed odd a few months ago; now, just another day in the life.

Except this time, I was folded up against the window, watching from the inside of the bus. 
My excitement was palpable – even having been to Chisinau before, even loving my village, even having only been there for three weeks – adventure hung in the crisp autumn air.  Settling in for the three hour ride, tinny pop music from the speaker directly overhead competed with my headphones to provide the soundtrack to my journey.  Determined not to give up, I switched from bluegrass to the Talking Heads, figuring my own pop music stood better ground in this battle to come.  I had learned lesson 2 of the busses: find a place far away from the speakers.  (Lesson 1 is to strategically place oneself near a vent during the summer, a task complicated by local fear of “the current.”)

Eventually drifting off, I awoke hours later, something internal telling me the stops had become too frequent to be the villages and raion centers dotting the road to Chisinau.  Peering out the window, the signs of the city were all around – busses, traffic, and people who clearly had places to be, not people with the leisurely pace of a village morning, but people with jobs that required suits and briefcases.  Still, tucked behind the window of the bus, it’s possible to close one’s eyes, draw the curtains, and shut this world out for a few minutes longer.  At last, however, the bus pulls into the central station, and with a final shutter as the engine is killed, it gives that final whooshing sound, as if the bus itself is exhaling a great sigh of exhaustion with the journey.

And suddenly, the doors are opened, and though still in a state of half sleep, the busy world outside pushes its way in.  Grabbing my bags, paying the driver, I check to see that the daughter and niece did in fact get their fruits at an earlier stop.  One of the first things that strikes me about the city is the noise, then the smell.  In the village, one hears roosters and dogs, always from a distinct direction.  But in the city has a constant low roar, and the smell of cigarettes hangs in the air, regardless if there is a smoker anywhere in sight.
The piata

The central bus station forms a disorganized heart of the central district, a square block of busses and people surrounded by streets to small for their collective missions.  And right next to it is the central piaţa, the main market, another square block crammed with alleys winding their way through stalls ranging from produce to clothes to unrecognizable electronic trinkets.

Sitting in the Peace Corps office later that day, overwhelmed by my options, what struck me as the source of overstimulation was the very presence of choice itself in my life.  In the village, there is very little decision making regarding my activities; I get up and spend my day working with various partners on various projects, my schedule largely dictated by their more structured lives.  I eat at home at the regular meal times, and my work generally follows a logic of which task is most pressing.  But in Chisinau, my routines crumble to reveal almost total flexibility in how and when I pursue the items on my weekend to do list.

Ultimately, I seized the freedom, and had a wonderful weekend catching up with friends, hearing their stories of the first amazing weeks at site, as well as making new friends.  During PST, social life was rather coherently structured according to training village and program.  Now, the doors are wide open to learn more about those in the other programs and their (sometimes very different) way of looking at our work in Moldova.

The Victory Arch illuminated with lasers
I also took care of overdue paperwork, took care of an eclectic shopping list, met with my program manager, snagged a new book (Stones into Schools), went to a meeting of the Gender Workgroup, and saw an opera (Aida, one of my favorites).  And of course, there were the evenings: a wonderful night of birthdays as well as a random street concert we happened upon after leaving the opera.  (Yes, we went from tragic arias straight to a rock concert complete with lasers and teeny boppers.)

By the time I made my way back onto the bus Sunday afternoon, it was with tired eyes but a happy heart, as well as an extra bag stuffed full of school supplies and ingredients for Mexican and Asian food (soy sauce is not to be found in the village, or even the district centers).  There is no bus directly to my village on Sundays, so the standard procedure is to hitchhike.  Catching a rough break, only three cars passed me, all of them full.  Not to worry, however – it was a beautiful day.  The walk provided time to finish listening to a podcast of This American Life, and slowly soak back into the more leisurely pace of the country, where an unplanned hour walk is no large inconvenience.

Still, by the time I curled up in bed that night, the serenade of roosters and dogs did not last long before I was deep in sleep.


Jessica said...

I like your writing. I like you in Moldova.

Jessica said...

I like your writing. I like you in Moldova.