I finally had the highly anticipated glass of soy milk made by the aforementioned hair stylist. It was a cold wet evening and I came inside the nearby salon to give it a try. She took my jacket and told me to have a seat at the table in the back room. I asked her if she would cut my hair but she refused. She told me she did not want me to look like a soldier, that my hair looked nice, and should not be touched. Seeing as how she is the best in town and is now my haircut consultant I refused to give it a second thought. On to the hot soy milk. I have tried soy milk only a handful of times and am pretty indifferent towards it. She took out a big mug and filled it with hot water, soy milk powder, and cocoa. I downed it within 10 minutes. It is very hard for me to have any drink be it coffee, tea, water, (a beer), and not see the first serving disappear within minutes. Without hesitation she popped up and poured me another glass. To my surprise, the second round was just as good as the first. In addition, I was also served soy pate, imported from Romania, spread out over wholegrain bread with sliced tomatoes and parsley on top. Surprisingly, the soy pate tasted just like the pork pate that I have had here before. If you are not familiar with the taste it is very similar to liver sausage, of which I am also a fan. The hair stylist is a vegetarian and eats insanely healthy which made the meal different for me but I enjoyed it. Since arriving in Moldova I have lost approximately 20 pounds and have maintained an extremely lean diet while cooking at home. As we ate and drank we discussed very simple topics. For one we talked about food for half an hour. She wanted to know how I ate in the United States and truth be told I was not very healthy. I ate a lot of red meat, fried foods, potatoes, sweets, and worst of all the portion sizes of the fatty foods I consumed were ridiculous. It was bad enough that I was eating food without a lot of nutrients but to top it off I was also putting it down 3 sometimes 4 times a day. Moldova has been very good to me physically. I feel fit and forcefully eat healthier here. When 8 apples cost $1, sign me up any time. There also are not many temptations for me to eat unhealthy. I do not like mayonnaise or sour cream which they like to add to soups and meats, restaurants are too expensive for my salary and are not very pleasing in comparison to my cooking, and because I cook for myself I do not have to appease my host mother by eating more than my heart delights. Therefore, I have maintained a very strict diet with almost all nutritious foods outside of cheese. Damn, I love cheese.
I asked her more about her life and where she grew up and what she enjoys to do. In fact she grew up in Leova and went to beauty school in Chisinau, then moved back to Leova. As far as her interests are concerned she enjoys to cook, read the bible, and spend time with her sister, friends, and relatives. She also likes to visit her family in Iași, Romania where they live and earn higher wages. What came as a huge surprise and mystery to me is that she has never been married and does not have children. She is in her 30’s, I would guess and wisely did not ask, and told me that she never found someone she liked enough to wed. She says she is very selective, which I can respect. This does makes her radical in comparison with her peers. The majority of women north of 25 have rings and/or children in Leova, but I think it is cool that she has held out.
Her and I continued to talk about where I have been and what I am doing currently in Moldova but it left her a bit confused. She did not understand why someone would leave such a comfortable setting to come here. I explained to her my reasoning but it still was incomprehensible for her. I did not have much to add about it and then immediately thereafter it came… silence. We arrived at a point of clear confusion and misunderstanding of where to lead the conversation. I searched and dug for something to go with but came to an ultimate roadblock. We are extremely different in many respects.
The hardest obstacle is not communication, it is cultural understanding. It is very hard for me to understand what it is like to not have the opportunities an American does. We can travel anywhere, work freely, buy all sorts of technology that instantly inform us about any current event happening around the world, have platonic friendships, openness with sexual orientation, or live amongst people of hundreds of different ethnicities in one city. In Moldova, only a minuscule percent have experienced a similar lifestyle. The majority of Moldovans travel to work and collect remittances. This is no slight but very few have the ability to travel on such a meager salary. This lack of opportunity and exposure forces me to stall out in conversations after speaking about healthy food, weather, work, or family. It becomes rough. Not only with the hair stylist, but with my friends in town as well. I care about them and I know they watch out after me but it is difficult to proceed in conversations when these experiences cannot be shared.
We finished eating and started a conversation about when I would come in for my next haircut and soy milk again. I thanked her for her hospitality and courtesy then left. Into the night, I walked home thinking about how difficult it is for me to relate. It is not because I do not care, it is because I cannot place myself in their shoes completely and vice versa. The Peace Corps is a grind. It takes you away from the things that once were second nature. We assume that someone took a 10 minute shower, just accepted a new position with a global firm, moved out after high school, bought a brand new car, traveled abroad for leisure, could afford to eat every day. All of that is programmed in. On the flip side, some here grew up without electricity, running water, heat, a car, multiple job opportunities, and a parent or two. All of these factors are contributing to my learning and understanding of the world. It may not always be fun, it definitely is not easy, but this process is teaching me very special things and making me stronger. The reward is the small things I can pick out of every single day. Today’s, soy milk and pate with a very charming host.