A manic Romanian melody hit my ears and tapped my toe as I lingered at the table after inhaling my chicken noodle soup. It was the kind of music that is so frantic and upbeat you either feel invigorated or exhausted after listening. It reminded me of wedding music, and I had flashbacks to a night years ago when my husband Curt and I attended a wedding in Zberoia (good luck pronouncing that! Z-beer-why-yuh), a tiny village on the western border. Weddings in Moldova last hours and hours, and sometimes they don’t even start until 9 or 10 pm. I thoroughly enjoy sleeping. In fact, I think it’s one of my best talents. Seriously. It took years to train my body, but I can basically fall asleep anywhere, anytime, so staying up all night celebrating the wedding of strangers without partaking of any libations like the rest of the crew was not my favorite Moldovan experience. I can remember dozing off on Curt’s shoulder between meals, knowing that the locals were probably laughing at the lightweight American. I’ll probably always be like a child in this way – when I’m tired, I’m tired, and I wished Curt’s shoulder was snug against me on that day in Ana’s kitchen. Ana must have sensed my tranquil mood and suggested a walk to a neighbors’ house to gather some ingredients from their refrigerator. Apologetically Ana confessed that their fridge broke a month ago and with the summer heat they had to store dairy and leftovers in different fridges around the village. “Next time you come we will have saved up enough to buy a new fridge”, she said half jokingly. Money is a stressor for most rural Moldovans, especially if they have stayed in the country to work for minimal wages instead of flocking to other countries like Russia and Italy to make much more. But for Ana especially, this was a time of financial uncertainty.
In 2014 news broke that a total of one billion dollars had gone missing from three of Moldova’s banks, one of which had a small branch in Carahasani where Ana worked. The huge fraud scandal was a devastating blow to the country in terms of international relations and political pathways as well as to the thousands of Moldovans like Ana personally affected. In two months time, she would lose her job, and her 900 lei (about $40 in 2015) monthly salary would disappear. “Yes, our salaries are pitiful”, she confessed, “but even that little bit helps.” It was my experience with most Moldovans that even through all the disappointment they seem to find a silver lining. Her shoulders lifted and that confident grin I was so drawn to reappeared as she declared how excited she was for the opportunity to have more time to read. Her nose scrunched as she laughed with optimism, but all I could muster was a pathetic half-smile. As we leisurely walked the dusty roads, arm in arm, collecting ingredients for dinner that evening, I wondered if I would have her resilience in the same situation.