Random things I miss

Hubbs is back in Moldova and I’m in Florida with the kids. Not sure how long this health-imposed separation will last, but hopefully not much longer. I don’t need to tell you that I miss hubbs – that’s a no-brainer (read: I desperately miss hubbs!). But there are some other things I miss about our life in Moldova, things I’ve noticed just in the last couple of days.

Our hardwood floors. I was watching an old TV series that took place in Germany during the second World War, and the floors were identical to ours. In both the  apartments we lived in. Those were great floors.

The lady that sold me produce. I could trust that anything I bought from her would be amazing. Her peaches and apricots were worth traveling to Eastern Europe for. Tomatoes, cukes, onions, chili peppers, raspberries, cherries – this woman had the best of the best. She was late to arrive at the market, and she never had much, but whatever she had was great. I could also trust that the two ladies next to her on either side had terrible produce and overcharged for it. I don’t miss them.

Being a rock star. Well, not so much a rock star as a rock star mom. All I had to do was walk out the front door with my three kids and I was an instant celebrity (read: freak-show!). People in Moldova just don’t have kids that close together in age.

Walking. We walked everywhere, all the time. If we couldn’t walk it we’d take a trolley. I don’t so much miss trolleys though – they’re not the cool San Francisco type of trolley where you lean out the back and wave as if you’re in a 1940s musical (and for those of you who live in San Francisco, yes, I do know that my stereotypical image of your trolleys is equally incorrect). Moldovan trolleys are dirty and  crowded. But it’s where you feel the heartbeat of the people the best.

Entertaining. There’s something about ‘warm’ cultures that aren’t so task-oriented. They share meals together. They make time for tea. People get together for walks in the park. There’s more conversation, and talking about deeper topics. I miss having people over most nights of the week. I miss the conversations.

Kagor. If you’ve been to Moldova (and you’re not a traditional Pentecostal or Baptist…) you know what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, ask your local wine retailers if they carry Kagor from Moldova. If not, demand that they find it. You’ll thank me later.

Matryoshka dolls and enamel cookware. I’d decorate my home in these if I could. Seriously. Love. It.

And did I mention that hubbs is there and not here? He is. There, that is. Across and ocean and a continent. Doing some awesome stuff, but doing it without us. We miss him. Thank goodness for Skype – we’d be lost without it.

Ways that Florida is different from the former Soviet Union

In Florida, as opposed to in Moldova:

  • People in kindergartens smile at kids – they act like they’re happy to see you!
  • There’s blessed A/C!
  • There are no goats randomly crossing crosswalks.
  • There are no hills. Anywhere.
  • Grocery stores are filled with stuff. (Reminding me of Veggie Tales… “Stuff stuff, mart mart”… and “How much stuff do youneed to be happy?” Replied to with “well, how much stuff is there?”)
  • There are entire aisles dedicated to breakfast cereal, but only 1/16th of an aisle for ketchup and mayonnaise.
  • People go to WalMart in pajamas.
  • There’s a WalMart to go to.
  • Police officers smile.
  • We do most of our shopping indoors.
  • Milk lasts a whole week! (Instead of a whole day)
  • You seldom see chickens – live ones, that is.
  • Dogs are domesticated, not wild in the streets.
  • I have to drive everywhere.
  • I have a car to drive anywhere!
  • I drive to the store even if it’s only 1/4 mile away.
  • There’s this funny thing called customer service…
  • My limited Russian is thought of as ‘exotic,’ not weak.
  • My near-perfect Romanian is thought of as irrelevant, not shocking good for a foreigner…
  • Moms with 3 young kids are everywhere
  • It’s hard to find good beets
  • I rarely see bulldozers driving down the road next to BMWs
  • Horse-pulled-carriages are a novelty sight at kitchy theme parks

Oh, the joy

Part of being in the former Soviet Union is sifting through kilometers upon kilograms of red tape. Going anywhere, changing anything, growing a family, or – heaven forbid – moving a family, requires multiple trips to offices and bureaus and payments to random people for who knows what, followed by more trips, waiting in line, and inevitably having at least 3 people yell at you for something as benign as existing.

Earlier this week hubbs sent me by myself to obtain an exit visa. As a foreigner on a permanent residence permit (the Moldovan equivalent of a green card) I don’t need a visa to stay long-term, but I can’t leave the country without permission – or at least that was the problem the last time I left. They actually wouldn’t let me and my American passport cross the border – I hadn’t jumped through enough hoops. So, determined not to make the same mistake again, I went to dot my i’s and cross my t’s.

This process of ‘perfecting’ paperwork is so torturous and common that there’s a pop song about it. It’s bad. So on Monday I went to the office of migration to get a little paper that says I can leave the country. I used my ‘dumbed-down’ faked foreign accent to ask what office I should go to, and instead of being directed to an office I was sent to the 4th floor. Do you know how many offices are on the 4th floor? It has 4 wings. Each wing has a dozen offices. So I find a line of people waiting outside one of the offices, but my keen intellect tells me they’re all Moldovans. Not foreigners seeking exit visas. Keep looking.

I go down all the other wings, satisfy my curiosity and finding that, unfortunately, there are no neon blinking signs that read “Foreigners come HERE for exit visas!,” and then I return to the line of people that most resembles what I would expect to see outside the exit visa office – foreigners, Moldovans, all nervously holding passports (mostly Turkish passports for some reason). I find a girl in her mid-20s who looks like she has the potential to be helpful and ask in my most polite Romanian (though not remembering to fake an accent) if I’m in the right place. She responds with sarcasm and proceeds to yell at me for being an idiot. Should have faked that accent.

My turn finally arrives (after I turn the sarcasm on someone else for trying to jump the line) and I again use my most polite Romanian to ask for an exit visa. The woman tilts her head down, looks over the rim of her glasses at me, and says nothing. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I nervously try again. She demands my passport, flips through it, asks me my nationality (because apparently the US passport complete with giant US emblem all over it and my local ID card that virtually screams AMERICAN isn’t enough of a clue for her). I tell her I’m an American. And she waits a moment, makes me sweat a little, and then says… wait for it…  “Well, I can’t give you an exit visa.”

This is where I swallow my tongue. I plead my case – I need to leave the country in 2 weeks, please tell me the process to obtain an exit visa. And she said I don’t need one. As of January 1st 2007 Americans, Canadians, and citizens of the EU do not need an exit visa to leave the country. I asked her to promise me that I’ll have no problems at the border. She promised (all the while asking me to leave her office). I only wish I’d asked her to put it in writing. Darn.

Then I took my dear 5-yr old girl, Bean, on the trolley to get home. This is the first time Bean’s been on a trolley this crowded. When it stopped at the station, I picked Bean up, climbed 2 of the 3 steps, and thrust Bean in front of me, nestled tightly in a cranny between 2 people. I kept my hand firmly on her shoulder but had nothing to hold on to as the trolley thrust forward. No worries – I wasn’t going to fall. And neither would anyone else. We were packed in like sardines so tight that the only movement possible was a gentle swaying with the motion of the trolley. Wall to wall, a mass smooshing of people without even enough space to look at the person you’re smooshed up next to. Aren’t you glad you use Dial? Don’t you wish everyone did? Eventually a man nearby noticed us and proceeded to shame a couple of grown men into giving up seats for the women and children. And when I say shame, I really do mean, shame. There was yelling, ridiculing, belittling involved. It was a fun day.

I’m done now. And so I wait. I wait knowing that there’s still a small chance that the border guards won’t be aware of the change that happened January 1st 2007. And there’s a small chance that I was in fact not in the right office and that she sold me a truck full of, shall we say, fertilizer. I’m eagerly awaiting the moment I’ll be on Romanian soil, free of worry, and very very far away from the red tape of the passport bureau.

Eureka

I have learned something new, and very helpful. I have this little problem here in Moldova. The problem is that I pick up parts of the local languages really easily – like pronunciation and frequently used phrases. I pick them up so well that people assume I’m from here.

Well, obviously, I’m not. And that causes a great deal of frustration for other people. They assume I’m Moldovan, they begin speaking rapid-fire and I get lost. My eyes glaze over, I try to stop them, but they don’t want me to interrupt, and the next thing I know they’re exasperated with me, or worse – treating me like a fellow-Moldovan who just happens to be a moron, and yelling at me for being an idiot.

A while back I tried something with my neighbor, who only speaks Russian. When she knocked on the door I told her up front that I don’t speak Russian. And then as I tried to make sense out of what she was saying, and answer her questions, I ‘dumbed down’ my Russian, stuttered, and purposefully used incorrect grammar. I even pretended I didn’t know the days of the week. (Hmmm… Monday… Iz zat, uhhh, tomowow?) My Russian is pretty poor to begin with, so it was easy.

I never thought to try it in Romanian, until hubbs suggested that I do it any time I’m on the phone. This morning I called a clinic that does CTs and MRIs and things like that, to schedule Bruiser for an exam. I ‘dumbed down’ my Romanian quite a bit, stumbled over words on purpose, spoke ridiculously slowly, and do you know what? The receptionist I talked to – who, by definition should be curt, unhelpful, and horribly rude – was friendly! Polite. Patient. She spoke slowly. She gave me another number to call and as she gave me the number she asked me to repeat it back to her to make sure I wrote it down correctly. If you don’t know Moldovan culture you might think that’s just a coincidence – I happened to find a receptionist who treats everyone that way. But no. I think it’s in the job description that they’re supposed to make any callers or potential patients feel like the ooze that grows on pond scum.

Dumbing down my ability to speak the language worked so well that I think I’ll use it more often. My friends will still get ‘me’ – speaking to them well and trying hard to learn the language better. But in official situations where I have to get things done, I’ll be faking ze bad accent, all ze while apologizing zat I’m verry verrry sorry for butchering zeir beautiful language.

Super mom!

I seem to have misplaced my cape and tiara, but I have been firmly established as “Super mom” here in Chisinau. With 3 kids spaced an average of 2 years apart, I’m a super hero. If ever I doubt that, all I need to do is hop on a trolley with all 3 kids. It’s kind of like the parting of the Red Sea as everyone steps back and a clear path appears in the sardine-style packed trolley for me and my kids make our way to a seat. I’d like to think it’s because I’m a superstar, but it’s probably more akin to getting out of the way of the village idiot. Here’s a shot from the trusty iPhone:

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As we ride on our jolly way, I hear whispers all around us – “Wow! look at her with all those kids!” “Do you think they’re all hers?” “How does she do it?” “Oh, that poor, poor mom” and my personal favorite “How do you think she gets them all to behave so well? And be so quiet?” “It’s just amazing.” I think some of those things are said as people hear us speaking English and assume that we can’t understand them. But that’s ok. I make sure the kids hear it – the parts about how quiet and well behaved they are (not so much the ‘poor, poor mom’ bits). They beam, and continue to be their sweet selves.

I’m a superstar. Just line up for autographs, folks. All I ask in return is that you not knock me off my culturally-imposed pedestal!

Goat milk for breakfast

… with some kind of homemade pasta mixed with beaten eggs and fried pancake-style . Apparently it’s ‘pretty good.’ I wouldn’t know, but my kids would. They’re in the village for a few days staying with hubbs’ aunt. The whole goat milk thing sent a little shiver down my spine, till I heard about the pasta-egg-pancake thing. But hey, at least someone thinks it’s ‘pretty good.’ Glad I’m not the one who gets to make that observation.

Kids come home tomorrow, and there are rumors that we’ll be getting gas back by the end of the week. Here’s hoping for hot food. Mmm… I bought myself some downright delish eggplant salad yesterday for dinner, and hubbs bought himself a smoked salted fish. (Ewww!) It only took a few hours to get the smell out of the apartment.

Assuming we get gas back, we may escape the water shut-off. The “president” of the building (I guess something like a president of a homeowners association) came by last night. She means business. I was a little frightened. She promised that she’ll take care of things with the gas company right away and the sum owed for gas back-payment is less than 1/2 what it used to be. We’ll see if she can work her magic with the water company before they turn us into a dry building. Here’s hoping.

If not, I may end up this weekend in the village with the kids. Drinking goat milk and eating egg-pasta pancakes. And drawing water from the well. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. My kids are half Moldovan – they can handle it. I’m full-blooded American. I can take a lot of things, but I have to draw the line somewhere, right? Of course here in the city we still share our neighborhood with a herd of goats who like the same lake-shore we do, but that’s a subject for another post.

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Slice of Americana in Moldova

Yesterday afternoon there was a cookout for all the American missionaries in Moldova, hosted by some of our American friends. We had a great time, and I wish I had pictures to post (kind of hard though, since our camera was accidentally left somewhere…).

Our kids got a taste of some truly American things – things we didn’t even do with them when we lived in the US. Little Man learned to play baseball – only, he thinks it’s a one-man game in which the player uses the glove to throw the ball and then chase it down. Bean and Little Man both got to roast marshmallows on a fire, then made smores with them. Bean is a fan of smores, but Little Man would prefer to just roast the marshmallows.

Bean also got to play dress-up with a Snow White costume and a Wonder Woman costume. She was pretty thrilled. On our shopping list for our trip to the states in August, we’ve added a couple costumes, a baseball, and a baseball glove.

New apartment

Remember how we moved to this great new apartment that’s in the perfect location and has a great kitchen and we love it? Well, on Monday our gas was turned off, meaning we can’t cook. We have a gas oven and stove, so we’ve been eating a lot of fresh salads, sandwiches, and canned corn lately. Yum. Well, yum and kind of fun the first day and a half, but now it’s becoming abnoxious.

Today we saw a notice posted on the door. Soon they’ll be turning off our running water. What happens is that when someone doesn’t pay their bill, the utility company can’t turn off utilities to that apartment alone, they have to turn it off to the entire building. So because one or two apartment rack up an unpaid bill, the entire building (about 180 apartments) loses utilities.

We’re handling the gas deal. We needed to replace our oven anyway, so when we do we’ll get one of the newfangled ones with a combination of gas and electric. But when the water goes, I’m done. I started to propose to hubbs that we take a little trek to the village when the water gets shut off, till I remembered – the village has no running water either. I give up.

I’m not sure how accurate my assessment is, but it seems to me that there’s of community here similar to that which exists in the army. You know, if one guy doesn’t shine his shoes they all do push-ups? Here, if one guy doesn’t pay his bill, he and all his neighbors lose service. And yes, the notice about the upcoming imposed water shortage does indeed name which apartment didn’t pay and how much their bill is. I’m hoping peer pressure is as powerful and effective in my apartment block as it was in 9th grade.

What’s Mudlark doing?

For the last week I’ve been working on a UNICEF document – it’s a study about high risk adolescent behavior in Moldova, and the English translation needs some TLC.

I can’t go into the details of it, but let me just tell you. This nation needs some serious prayer. I’m reading numbers about injecting drug users (some as young as 10 years old), multiple sexual partners as early as age 13, children going to prison without lawyer representation, juveniles being beaten and abused by prison personnel. 85% rate of unclean needles in drug users. The abortion rate in a specific sub-section at 60%.

Every nation in the world deals with these issues – no single country is immune to it. But I feel like I’ve been slapped in the face with the sobering consequences of misinformation, poverty, hopelessness, combined with the absence of faith in the living God.