Time is this bewildering and multifaceted feature that we justly use as a measure of approval in our lives. If we find success or marriage by a certain age we think happiness will escort it. But how can I appraise time when my normal routine is evacuated and suddenly exchanged for the other extreme? No longer able to bank on it, time here has come to a halt; lifestyles, priorities, and schedules are left to adopt or get lost in the mix. The traditions are switched; the calendar is inverted. The climate is our measure here; the sun is our clock. As the weather perks up, Moldovans tend to their gardens and homes and prepare for the forthcoming holidays and ensuing summer. However, before Easter – the juiced up version of the superbowl in terms of Eastern European holidays – came my Birthday. While I haven’t always been the biggest „birthday” person, I was subjected to oddly sundry emotions. Eager to witness this altered celebration, yet unable to sidestep the prevailing homesickness, I began to wish it came and passed hurriedly. All of my bottled up reservations came rushing back as though I had just moved into the village and it seemed to be a constant reminder of just how far I am away from home. Remaining attentive to my cohorts’ modified lives, I just wanted to avoid being an inconvenience.
Heed to my mammoth, grateful sigh crashing its’ way through these words as my village not only made me feel valued, but confirmed that I am even now amongst family. Since in Moldova you are expected to make the treats and throw the party on your birthday for your friends and family, my partner and I made brownies the day before – a cool spin in reverse order – and circulated them all around the school; but it wasn’t me putting forth the effort of the day. I walked into school and was immediately directly into a classroom which revealed one of my 7th form classes, my wonderful friend and partner Svetlana, and a projector set up next to a luscious cake beneath lit candles. After an English & Romanian serenade, they sat me down and aimed my attention towards the taped-computer-paper-makeshift-projector-screen. We looked on as I saw how some of the most caring people I know created a video collage screening so many loved ones in my life displaying birthday signs, recorded messages, and funny tidbits from all over the globe. Who would have thought that my first tears shed in Peace Corps wasn’t the espy of bruises on my students’ faces or the hurdles attributable to poverty, but the downpour of love and support experienced when my two families and worlds collaborated to give me the best gift I have ever received. Unable to be topped, I continued on with my day being blindfolded into classrooms of singing children, the guest of honor at a surprise „birthday conference”, and showered with more good wishes than one can commit to memory. Other unforgettable moments of the day include a 4th grader presenting me with a poem accompanied by a gift that was eerily comparable to the clock that once hung on the schools’ entrance wall (my partners thought this was hilarious and told me to keep the giant, „borrowed” clock), as well as a small after-school gathering of the teachers in which I was rewarded a diploma for The Most Moldovan Volunteer in all of Peace Corps. This birthday was surely one for the record books.
Next, came Orthodox Easter, a week bookended by Sunday celebrations that seized weeks of preparation time. Houses must be radiantly shipshape, the best clothes in the wardrobe are to be primed, and kitchens are likely to emerge as chaotic warzones with the aroma of ecstasy. I was lucky enough to have a buddy visit me to behold these customs with me; the „outside” perspective made it all the more interesting. Once preparations have wrapped up, the entire community congregates at the church shortly before midnight leading into Easter Sunday. Womens heads are wrapped in respect, men docile but paying forward their respects in a less methodical system. Gheorghe, one of my 6th graders, willingly took on the role of Guide and explained to me and Chris (my visitor) the significance of kissing the vibrant canvas representations of saints before entrance and the rest of the traditions we observed. Voices were detained at a near muted level as the hymns and harmonic prayers occupied any and all vacant soundwaves in the air. The only light came from the flames of candles wrapped in each individuals’ hand as a combination of earnestness and unanimity fuzed with worship to fill the entire region in warmth. When the clock struck 12midnight, all exited the church to produce a circle around the sacrosanct building. After a few more blessings, we communally walked three circles around the site to exemplify our dedication. Step two of the lovely holiday included returning to the church at 4am with your Easter basket. Instead of store-bought chocolates and small Best-Buy produced trinkets, these contain homemade sweet bread, dyed eggs, flowers from the homes, and a few sweets. Unfortunately, we failed to wake up for this component but as I was told, people line up and stand behind their baskets to allow for the village Priest to move by and bless each one with a few splashes of holy water. For the final step, we were requested at 9am for a large meal which began with a shot of holy water as the first ingredient, followed by a few shots of cognac, and a large succulent meal. As we have now celebrated, we are to greet people we come across with „Hirstos a inviat!” (Jesus has risen!) with an appropriate response of „Adeverat a inviat!” (Its true, he has risen!) instead of the normal salutations. Next year, I vow to partake in each step with less perplexity as it is pretty obvious we’re not messin around here.
The successive days to follow were chock-full of eating, telling stories, and furnishing shots of house wine or cognac with religious and jolly toasts. In order to circumvent too many hangovers, we opted for a very last minute and very imprecise getaway to Odessa, Ukraine. You may be taken aghast to just how easy (and cheap) it was to jump the border and to rummage the streets of a new city in search for a place to sleep. While I won’t go in too much detail, we rewarded ourselves with some much needed beach time, squeezed out every bit of enjoyment and laughter out of the random adventure, and failed in our goal to avoid too many hangovers. The $11 bus ride back to Moldova wasn’t as amusing as the droll flee.
It was truly an exceptional experience to have a college buddy take an outing deep into my life here. I had to be reminded to translate, got to see his eyes grow wide at things that seem haibutal to me, and we got to chuckle at things we know we’ll never face again. Despite the capriciously stable agenda I’ve had the last year or so, my life – along with my village – will continue to prioritize around the sun and things will become much more abstract. That concept of time we sometimes utilize for our lives’ trajectory will vanish with the free flowing wind, and I will fight to enlighten that it’s the memories we’re supposed to treasure over disposable gifts or invented deadlines. It is the joint rituals, the breaking down of barriers, and the authentic causes of laughter, pain, and respect that steer passion in life and what we see as success. I am a few days from sharing this epic ride with the woman who has watched me grow, with the person who instilled trust and knowledge within me; I am about to welcome my best friend and Mother into the world that has my head holding high and has my recent alliterations absolutely littered with passion. My worlds are colliding – and it has nothing to do with time or distance.
(Picture: my birthday gifts displayed with a photobomb by my Moldovan pet, Lima)