On my first day as a waitress, the manager introduced me to the team during their 10:30 AM staff meeting. I timidly peeked at new faces through the drapery of my long black hair. I understood by the way Stefan's left cheek blushed more than his right, he was someone I should know. Stefan and I quickly became friends. He drew an intricate eyeball on my notebook and told people to "make it silent", instead of, "shut your mouth!" He was from Moldova, an Eastern European country I unfortunately had never heard of. Moldova is often overlooked, smushed between Ukraine and Romania. I did not know then, I would have the pleasure to visit.
I felt outer body as the border control stamped my passport and traditional pipe music played over the airport intercom. Jet lag was true and I was about to meet my in-laws for the first time. Stefan squeezed my skin gently. His raised eyebrows churned my guts into butter, as I remembered this moment was more crucial for him.
Walking through the arrivals door, my eyes searched for the familiar people I've never met. Momma Frunze stood ahead with my brother-in-law and a bouquet of flowers. She hugged her son with tears in her lashes. I admired their reunion and her red leather jacket. Her beauty outshone the relief buried behind her forehead. We couldn't talk to each other, because she speaks Russian and I speak English, but how lucky I felt to experience such joy.
We drove through the capital city of Chisinau to Stefan's family home in the village of Maximovca. Momma Frunze held my hand, as we twisted and turned at high speeds through the winding hills. I remember her firm softness. The car suddenly stopped to let a cow cross the road. I already loved the Frunze's house before we pulled into the driveway. The quaint yard, alive with tulips, vegetables, and grape vines was sweetly reassuring. Here the upbringing of my life partner sprouted. His family is my family. How could I've not known such a world existed? I belonged.
Slippers awaited our feet at the door, to protect our toes from cold floors. The kitchen was cozy, plentiful with plants, lace curtains, religious figures, and a bricked-oven wall. An array of our favorite foods were prepared for our arrival. I was in foodie heaven with ten days of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggs, potatoes, eggplant, jams, and cheese. Stefan told his mom I loved mimosas. Although, not traditional in Moldova, we toasted our first drink with Champagne and orange juice. As soon as Papa Frunze arrived from work, we tested out the homemade wine. After one glass, which we drank as a shot, I felt tipsy. :P Papa Frunze asked me many questions and told a lot of jokes, which I couldn't understand, but his charm was present. Stefan receives the highest award in my heart for being a super duper translator. :D
Our bedroom overlooked the front garden. The dresser drawers were a time capsule of Stefan's youth, supplied with old photographs and school accomplishments. Momma Frunze arranged a tray of fruits and cookies at our bedside. Which she replenished every day while we were out exploring, along with vases of fresh flowers from her yard.
At 3 AM, I was exhausted, but I couldn't sleep. The roosters were yelling and waking the neighborhood dogs. I was more excited than I've ever been, as a child on Christmas morning, awaiting an epic adventure of sightseeing and meeting ALL of the people. Stefan stayed awake too. He shared memories with me until the smell of french toast and tea leaves seeped under our door and carried us to the kitchen. Momma Frunze was cooking breakfast, while pans clinked and the radio sang Russian poetry. Stefan opened the back door to the view of the quiet, fertile countryside. Sheets blew on the clothesline. I promise I could her animals yawning. The city skyline was pastel in the distance with sunrise.
We spent the remainder of our trip on the go, wandering the country, visiting fortresses, wineries, churches, museums, and walking the city streets where Stefan went to school. I was surprised how green the city of Chisinau was! I enjoyed these moments, where time seemed to slow, and I didn't want to be anywhere else. We spent a lot of time with my brother-in-law, Denis. He drove through the congested traffic, dodged pot-holed roads, and mastered manual driving. Stefan and him laughed a lot. I don't know about what. I was just happy to hear their brotherhood.
The most memorable part of our visit to Moldova was meeting SO MANY people. We were welcomed into homes with food, drinks, and hours of conversation. After leaving one friend's house, we would run into another friend, commence another round of food, drinks, and conversation. Sometimes, I desperately wanted to speak to my new friends and family without asking Stefan to translate. I couldn't communicate to the people of Moldova, beyond smiles and hugs. I like to believe this was enough. It was for me. Emotions and energy were vivid, and they were stronger than speech. Traveling to an unknown country, I was expecting to feel a little more out of my element...instead I grew a stronger sense of how much all humans are alike. I did witness a few cultural differences, such as, greetings...some people kiss you on the cheek once, others do three...which always left my lips awkwardly somewhere on someone's neck!
Oh! on the subject of cultural differences... we celebrated the Orthodox Easter! but, I will save those details for another post :D
I am eternally grateful toward each and every person who welcomed us into their unique world of Moldova. I've been invited into a hidden gem, rich in tradition, history, natural land, and soul-soothing wine. With it's European-style qualities, at inexpensive rates, this Summer destination is an all in all win. We look forward to our next visit with friends and family!
I love your home, your family, and absolutely YOU.Love,