We recently ran some of the anecdotes sent us from Moldova by Peace Corps volunteer Jessica Askins, a 22-year-old friend from Mio in northern Michigan.
Anyone who has ever gone off alone to live in foreign country will have some appreciation for what Jess is now going through in this former part of the Soviet Union. But few of us have ever lived in a Third World country like Moldova, where practically no English is spoken and where medicine and hygiene are primitive at best.
And now Jess is unwell.
Currently, she writes, I m sick. Just your run of the mill sinus infection, but here, it s rare.
My host mom decided to use some traditional medicines on me. And although our Peace Corps medical officer warned us about traditional Moldovan cures, I figured it couldn t hurt.
So there I sat under a blanket with my face over a bucket of hot water mixed with some herb from the garden, baking soda, and salt. I figured that this remedy couldn t be that bad as I d seen it on TV. People get sick. You stick their head under a sheet and over a bowl of hot water.
But only now do I understand the real purpose of the sheet. I had mistakenly thought it was there to keep the fumes in so you get the full healing power of the mix. Wrong. Its actual purpose is to shield any passerby from the horror of what is really happening underneath that sheet!
Jess goes on to tell how after five days the sinus infection eventually went away. But not before she d had a session with her feet in hot water to stop the sneezing, of course.
To keep herself amused when not teaching English to her charges, or keeping out of the ubiquitous Moldovan mud, or sitting under a blanket ingesting poisonous fumes, Jess sometimes entertains herself by Climbing a tree to brush my teeth or chasing chickens round the yard!
Sometimes, I stand really still until they think I m a tree (chickens aren t very smart, you know) and then they come close and I scare them.
Well, last night they definitively had the last laugh. In the middle of the night I had to use the outside veciul (water closet) and as I walked in pitch darkness through the yard, the chickens jumped out of the bushes right in front of me. I nearly didn t make it to the hole.
Score one for the chickens.
The Moldovan food has also given Jess a few surprises.
In the U.S., I m not a great potato chip eater. But here it s nice to have a snack every now and then that reminds you of home. However, the chips are quite different here. Tasty but different.
In America, we have chips flavored like sour cream and onion, barbecue, cheese, etc. But in Moldova, it s all meat. You can get bacon, chicken, and my personal favorite cheese and ham delight. They aren t artificially flavored, either, but actually taste like a piece of bacon or a fried chicken leg or a ham and cheese sandwich.
And then Jessica went out and bought a plant.
I also bought it a pot. I like plants, but really everyone in Moldova has a plant, and I want to experience life here like they do.
I also bought some white lace curtains from the piata for the same reason. I wasn t a big fan of lace curtains at home, but here I like them.
This experience is breaking down all my previous prejudices veggies, hot liquids, sunflowers, lacy curtains, and so on. Maybe I ll dye my hair red like every woman here. You know, when in Moldova or something like that!
One thing is certain. Red hair or not. Jessica Askins, the little girl from Mio, Mich., will never be the same again!