Officially one year in the books as a barmy Peace Corps Volunteer and consequent resident of the Republic of Moldova. Last June shortly after arrival, I snubbed training sessions to fixate on my planner and underscore upcoming dates with dark circles. I plotted days that I would force myself to reach; July 4th, August 15th (swear-in ceremony), January 1st (1 semester down). Once I hit those, only then would it be acceptable to resign from the miserable crusade that had me living in relentless doubt. Dripping with sweat and unable to escape the heat or callow conversations, I would drift outside and gawk up at the planes, marvelling in my loneliness and questioning the effect if I just booked the next one and departed back to America. The language wasn’t coming easy, the locals placed an invented espionage brand over my head, and it seemed as if I only gave a shit about my budding impact on the country. Yet, here I am.
I’ve logged more than 5 marathons worth of hitchhiking miles; I’ve eaten things that would make even Fear Factor contestants sick to their stomachs; I’ve drank more types of alcohol to count, from the most abhorrent of supply. As a result, my ancestors would roll over in their graves if they knew the things I’ve substituted as toilet paper or napkins and I can find more uses for something as simple as a zip lock bag than the quantity of invented episode ideas by Jerry Springer. Whatever „brand snob” personality I once adopted has diminished, portrayed by my lovely 4-day a week outfits. In some ways, I have never been more physically healthy or mentally shrewd, but in other ways (…ahem, hygeine), I make a stray hyeina look like a prized poodle. My senses have habituated the weird. The perpetual shrieks of a rooster, the convival aroma of a pig pen, the thereapeutic sensation of pooping out in the open (sorry, not sorry), the display of a horse & buggy on the highway, and the taste of things I can’t begin to pronounce have become more routine in my life than a Starbucks in NYC. However, I am astounded by just how content and simply alive I feel some days. Unable to walk the village without a strident and youthful „Domnul Brett!” or go a week without receiving love letters inscribed in some Romanian-Russian mixture; the random strangers making U-turns just to offer a ride when I’m standing on the side of the highway. Benevolence exists despite the harshness of actuality.
Many things have changed, but some things will hang about. The constant feeling of discomfort being one of them. Something is always in a little pain, I’m always too hot or too cold, and some things just don’t adhere to logic. I may never acclimatize to barefoot children begging for money or chained up dogs acting as doorbells. The idea of privacy is more foreign than the land itself and … dear God – you can never trust a fart. Regardless of my abridged cautiousness, some days the lone American in the village still sticks out as if I have hired a 20 foot crane to hold a spotlight over my head wherever I go. My whereabouts are still as documented amongst the village as an O.J. Simpson conspiracy theory in those shitty tabloids. The difference? Just a few seasons ago, I sat around tables with Moldovans shooting words and questions at me that could have been Korean death threats or flirtatious offerings in the Gujarati tongue. I would conceal myself from the public and tremble when I stood in front of a class and understood nothing. Not no mo’. My definition of beauty has changed: instead of beachfront resorts, its the backyard natrual fruit isle I cherish. My definition of fun has changed – bouncing from locals’ couches country to country and having the world as my playground is my choice over a keg party. Okay so maybe they are tied.
I wrestled through a year of my life battling to learn a language and ingrain myself in this culture in order to teach these kids and their families what I know about a healthy lifestyle. I came to install parts of my culture and open up my heart to augment their world. Yet, its THEM who have taught me that barriers are just opportunities and we can never stop learning or improving. It is THEM who patiently endured my dull conversations and showed me how to live happy without the flair. My learning curve went from vanilla and forlorn to satiated and supported. My heart aches daily for the future of these incredible people, yet I have moments of simplicity and elation because of them. The rotted and jagged teeth, dilapidated recycled wardrobes, and pathetic excuses to cover up abuse and alcoholism has taken a backseat to the daily examples of emerging leaders, random acts of kidness, allegiance to tradition and family, and yet to be fully-fulfilled aptitude. My fellow folk deem themselves as just „poor Moldovan’s” – not even exotic Africa, but just Moldova -and I have no idea how to substantiate my esteemed outlook. I may never live again without a garden. I refuse to skip the daily tendering of tea or dosage of walking. Hell, I won’t surrender my backyard butcher shop. No matter what I do, it doesn’t seem to show my love and I never feel as if I am doing enough. However, now they have incorporated me into their world and revealed their potential. Our conversations are now lively- filled to the brim with clever invective and fun, playful rhetoric. Our work has authentic value and we relish in the moments we have together. What was simple and cumbersome is now multifaceted and rosy.
So, for this inward bound and quizzical second year, I am now the veteran who will restart the cycle and train the incoming volunteers. I will welcome them to this mindfuck of a job and elevate my service in a post-transition period. My primary goal is to better the lives of the people in my community in any way I can. The secondary goals are to be an international Ambassador for the United States of America, yet I log onto CNN and see things like movie theater shot up in Colorado, a school rampage in Connecticut, and a bombing during a major Boston sporting event. Its okay, because ….? We have lost communication at the dinner table thanks to smart phones and apps that can hold conversations for you… we have lost personal touch and cherised traditions due to perceived convienence. Yes, but what I have come to comprehend is that we have inimitable perspective of the world, have the drive to fight for our passions, and think outside the box to make the people in our lives and our futures wealthy with happiness. We are the people who make up phenomenoms like the Peace Corps; we are the people who make up the first responders and beautiful support systems for such global tragedies; we are the people who constantly look to improve the world by manning non-profits, human resource companies, and communication outlets that keep the rest of the world informed; we are the people who understand the value of the dollar, the value of service, and the value of love.
So blend those together and where do I find myself? Sorry all, still the same, strange Brett with maybe a bit more of an edge. Despite my genuine effort to let go of contrasts and set this year apart from the rest, it will forever manipulate my shifting view of humanity. I may have given up SportsCenter, my car, and the rest of my luxuries but I have gained things that money or luck will never be able to afford. What have these unrestrained thoughts and encounters with personal clarity and growth truly done to me? That’s the trickster. My mother recently entered my world. She stood on the ground where we will build a park via won grant money, she intersected gazes with the 400+ students that have taught me just as much wisdom as I’ve installed in them, she dined with the people who have opened my heart to new types of relationships, and she walked the “streets” of the place that I’ve called home for an entire year of my life, lack of toilets and all. Priorities remain, perspective fluid.
I certainly got the adventure I went after. What other job allows you to „wear the hat” of a respected profession bypassing the formal background and training? What other job will have your sense of time and normalcy more warped than Howard Stern’s sense of humor without consequence? What other job could allow me to have stepped foot in 20 new countries by the end of this journey despite living off just over $2 a day? I have reached a level of enlightment that I thought only monks could achieve as I work to make this world a better place for all. While I can only hope that I am bettering the lives of the people of Lapusna whom I have come to adore, I am riding into year 2 with my head high, my sense of humor invigorated, a plump heart, and my sweaty/frozen buttcheeks always clenched. While it remains to be seen which of these internal changes will be lasting, a few things are certain: I’m exactly where I need to be, I have never been so wildly in control of my own life and destiny, and I have never been so insanely liberated and just simply happy.
My part of the village has been without running water and reliable electricity for the last week, and I have escaped to the mayors office to engrave this lexis in a futile attempt to paint a vivid picture of my life. I now have „Never settle” and „Leave a trail” tatooed on my body as daily reminders of my skewed vision, and while missing birthdays, traditions, and special moments showed me i wont be a border jumper for the rest of my days with a pulse, I was meant to learn via seeing the world. I was meant to learn from other people. I could have never predicted what the last 365 days have brought me, so why attempt to calculate the future? I have giggling kids to my left, a smelly old man to my right, a recycled bottle of flammable house wine in front of me, and an awe-inspring natural world around me. Now when I gaze up into the sky and my eyes traverse with an airplane overhead, bursting with pride I no longer pray to be aboard heading West. Bring it on year 2.